House approves $606 billion DOD spending bill in 326-90 vote

The House late Thursday approved a massive, $606 billion bill funding the Defense Department and war activities in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2013.

Members approved the bill in an 326-90 vote, after two days of debate on several amendments from Democrats that sought to limit spending in Afghanistan, as well as some attempts by Republicans to cut spending to reduce the federal budget deficit.

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When it came to the floor, the bill increased DOD base funding by about $1 billion over 2012 levels, to $519 billion, but cut funding for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by $27 billion, reflecting drawdowns in U.S. activity there. The bill provides $88.5 billion in so-called "overseas contingency operations."

Just before the final vote, however, the House approved an amendment from Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) that returned DOD base funding to its 2012 level, $518 billion, with the exception of spending on military personnel, defense health and overseas contingency operations.

That was the most significant cut to the bill on the floor, despite several other attempts by members to pare back funding even further. Several members started debate on the bill by protesting the decade-long U.S. presence in Afghanistan, and called on members to support amendments to cut funding for operations there. The United States plans to keep troops in Afghanistan through at least 2014.

"I cannot continue to support legislation that sends billions and billions and billions of dollars to Afghanistan," Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) said Wednesday. He was joined by Reps. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who argued that the United States should leave Afghanistan because it successfully eliminated Osama bin Laden.

Several Democrats also joined in the protest, and later offered amendments to strip funding for Afghanistan. But all of these were turned away.

Late Wednesday, for example, the House voted down three proposals to cut a total of $23 billion from the bill from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

And on Thursday, the House turned away several more amendments from Lee, including one that would have required funds to be used in Afghanistan only for the orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from that country, and several others that cut various amounts from the bill.

"The bloated Pentagon budget must be addressed if we are serious about solving our nation's deficit," Lee said Thursday.

The closest members came to defunding Afghanistan operations was approval of language from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) to cut $175 million in infrastructure spending.

The bill takes some shots at Russia and Pakistan, as well as President Obama's relationship with those countries. One amendment that passed, from Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), would prevent the Obama administration from sharing classified information on U.S. missile defense systems with Russia.

The amendment is a reaction to Obama's "hot mic" remarks to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this year, when he said he would have more flexibility on the sensitive issue of U.S. participation in a European missile defense system after the elections.

"This amendment would say, 'Mr. President, you won't tell us what your secret deal is, but that secret deal better not include sharing classified information of the United States with the Russians about our missile defense,' " Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said during debate.

Another amendment, from Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), prohibits funds from being used to enter into any agreement with Rosoboronexport, the Russian-made helicopter manufacturer.

On Wednesday, members approved language from Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) that cuts $650 million in aid that was to be provided to Pakistan, a reaction to what he and others have said are questions about the strength of Pakistan's commitment to fight terrorism with the United States.

The House also accepted language from Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to prohibit funds from being used to assist the governments of Iran and Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood.

Closer to home, the House allowed DOD to continue sponsoring NASCAR and other sporting events to help in its recruiting efforts. As it came to the floor, the bill contained language that would have prevented this spending, amounting to $72 million total. But Republicans raised a point of order to remove that language.

Later on, Reps. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) and Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) proposed an amendment to put the limitation language back in the bill, after a lengthy debate in which Kingston said the Defense Department cannot measure how effective these recruiting efforts are.

But a narrow majority of the House opposed Kingston's language, and rejected his amendment in a close 202-216 vote.

House passage sends the bill to a Senate that appears unlikely to consider it anytime soon. The bill is the seventh spending bill for 2013 that the House has passed, while the Senate has so far passed none.

The Senate has generally balked at the House-passed bills because they break the spending deal reached last year. President Obama has also threatened to veto the defense appropriations bill because it's $3 billion higher than the Pentagon's budget request and $8 billion above the spending caps in last year's Budget Control Act.

But the administration also objected to several changes that the House made in the appropriations bill to the Pentagon's original budget proposal. Those included restoring weapons programs that DOD sought to terminate, like the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 drones.

The administration is also opposed to Congress blocking cuts to the Air National Guard and blocking increases to Tricare healthcare premiums for retirees.