Senate panel moves to assist Syrian opposition

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday struck down an amendment by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) that would have blocked an administration effort to train and equip opposition forces in Syria.

"Syria is a kaleidoscope of ever-changing circumstances and loyalties,” Pryor said in defense of his measure. “Our friends today could be our enemies tomorrow. 

He warned that any weapons or ammunition given to groups “would be impossible to track” and pointed to the insurgency roiling Iraq, where Islamic extremists took control of materials Washington provided to government forces.

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“It is a gamble, make no mistake,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), chairman of the defense subcommittee. He promised there would be aggressive vetting of groups before any equipping took place and extensive congressional oversight after.

The $500 million is “too little, too late, but it’s probably better than doing nothing,” according to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) spoke out in favor of the proposed change to the spending bill, saying she was “extremely troubled” the administration made the request “without having a plan.”

Pryor’s amendment was defeated in a 21-9 vote.

The money for Syrian groups make up part of $5 billion counterterrorism account proposed by the White House. Senators folded the request into $59.7 billion for overseas contingency funds.

Aside from Pryor’s amendment, the panel breezed through its markup of its 2015 spending bill. The measure provides $489.6 billion in base funding for the Pentagon, down from $572 billion last year.

Lawmakers approved $338 million to keep the A-10 “Warthog” fleet in the air for at least one more year. 

“I don’t know if there’s another part of the bill that I’ve received more comments from my colleagues on” than the A-10, Durbin joked.

The panel also marked $848.7 million to refuel the Navy aircraft carrier USS George Washington, and doubled funding for the Israeli missile defense system Iron Dome to $351 million. 

Committee members approved a package of 24 noncontroversial amendments. The panel also adopted measures would require the Defense Department to study allowing more people with disabilities to enlist and another that would provide $7.5 million to study amyotrophic lateral sclerosis disease.