House blocks funding for 'Law of the Sea' treaty

Members of the lower chamber approved a plan by Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to block any government financing to implement the "Law of the Sea" treaty. 

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Introduced as an amendment to the House version of the fiscal 2013 defense budget plan, House members agreed to the Duncan-Jordan language early Friday morning by a vote of 229-193. 

Approval of the House amendment could set up a showdown with the Senate later this year when both chambers draft a compromise defense bill to send to the White House. 

The Senate is debating whether to ratify the treaty, which would essentially establish the rules of the road for the United States and other countries across the world's waterways. 

But with Friday's vote, even if the Senate decides to ratify the treaty, Congress would be barred from funding the various elements mandated under the pact. 

One element is the creation of an international forum tasked with resolving territorial disputes like the ones in the South China Sea and Strait of Hormuz. 

All signatories to the treaty are required to have a seat at that table. However, critics of the treaty claim that forum will hamstring U.S. naval operations with unnecessary international oversight.

If Congress agrees to the pact, Navy commanders may be forced to clear future military operations with other pact members before moving forward, critics claim.

"Not only is this treaty unnecessary, it would also empower a new international bureaucracy at the expense of American sovereignty," Michael Needham, CEO for Heritage Action, the advocacy arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, said in a statement Friday. 

"America cannot afford yet another foreign policy mistake [with this] ... dangerously-flawed treaty," he added.

Sen. James Inhofe, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and staunch opponent of the treaty, will use next Wednesday's committee hearing on the pact to advocate the potential negative impacts it may have on U.S. military operations. 

"I'm probably not the only one . . . at the [committee] here who disagrees with the administration's [support for] the Law of the Sea," Inhofe said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in February. 

To that end Inhofe and a number of other Senators are drafting a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) outlining the reasons against ratification, according to Inhofe spokesman Jared Young. 

That said, senior Senate defense committee member John McCain (R-Ariz), Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and others have come out in support of the treaty. 

McCain called upon the Senate to take action on ratification at an event sponsored by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Affairs in June.

On Monday, McCain reiterated that it was time for Congress to "set aside political bickering and point-scoring" and commit to a stronger U.S. position in the Pacific via treaty ratification. 

Panetta has argued the treaty would be vital in "underpinning [the] public order" on the high seas for the United States and the rest of the international community.

It would also play a crucial role in keeping global hot spots like the South China Sea in the Pacific and the Strait of Hormuz in the Middle East from boiling over, according to Panetta. 

--story was updated at 3:12 p.m. to include comments from Jared Young, spokesman for Sen. James Inhofe