Dems criticize defense markup process

Democrats on Wednesday criticized the House Armed Services defense bill markup, saying the limited time for debate or opportunities to offer amendments must end.

During the markup of the Strategic Forces subcommittee draft of the 2015 defense budget, ranking member Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) decried the “antique” tradition of members waiting until the full panel convenes to tackle tough issues.

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“We kick all of our problems upstairs to the full committee,” which makes the final authorization markup a “horrendous, one-day ordeal,” Cooper said. 

He went on to describe that meeting, scheduled for May 7, as an “amendment fest.”

Cooper also criticized the subcommittee’s proposed legislation, saying it was “largely a rehash of the president’s budget.”

In recent years, subcommittees have seemingly been in a race with one another to see who can wrap up their legislative business first. 

Wednesday’s Strategic Forces hearing finished in less than nine minutes.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) also took issue with the markup, questioning why a South Carolina fuel facility, which has cost the federal government billions of dollars to develop, was not included in the proposed bill.

Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said the facility was under the full committee’s jurisdiction.

Garamendi argued that the issue would come up during the May 7 meeting “at some hour of the morning when nobody’s paying much attention.”

He rattled off a list of other issues he felt the panel should have discussed, including plutonium production and building new facilities for the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration.

“To my knowledge this isn’t the railroad committee,” he said. “I don’t know, it seems to me these are things we ought to be discussing.”

Garamendi appeared to be the only dissenting voice when the subcommittee voted to adopt and report out the legislation.

After the hearing, Garamendi told reporters that he did not offer any amendments himself because “there is such a thing as wasting time.”

“The die is cast. The game is played out,” he added, referring to private discussions among panel members on legislation.

For his part, Cooper said members “need to be prepared” in advance of amendments being offered but that they have grown accustomed to speeding bills through.

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink,” he told The Hill.

If House Armed Services subcommittees had “real markups then we’d be presenting a package that had been hashed out,” he added. “Right now we’re punting to the full committee.”

Cooper called the 24-hour deadline for the full Armed Services markup “manufactured,” with some of the most important issues being discussed late at night or in the wee hours of the morning.

“How can you make sensible decisions that way?” he asked.