Defense appropriations bill on hold over amendment issues

The Defense Appropriations bill was further delayed Thursday as House Republican leaders grappled with handling amendments to the bill  — and getting a rule that could pass on the House floor.

The Rules Committee postponed a meeting scheduled for Thursday to take up the rule to the Defense bill. It has not yet been rescheduled.

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Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) indicated earlier in the week that the committee might adopt a rule limiting amendments that receive votes on the floor, as there are concerns over amendments trying to defund the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs or limit President Obama’s options in Syria.

A defense industry source with knowledge of the deliberations told The Hill that the latest delay was due to leadership concerns that a structured rule limiting amendments could not pass. The source said conservatives who are offering NSA and Syria amendments might join Democrats to defeat the rule on the floor, a scenario GOP leaders want to avoid.

A spokeswoman for the Rules Committee said Thursday outstanding issues remained with amendments to the Defense bill, but did not elaborate. Other House leadership aides noted that with the Education bill on the floor this week, there wasn't a rush to get to the Defense measure.

Since Republicans took over the House in 2011, the Defense Appropriations bill has been considered under an open rule, where any amendments can be offered. Defense and congressional sources said last week that a different approach was being considered this time because of the potential of amendments causing problems with the NSA, Syria and Egypt.

“While this is not the traditional process for this bill, there are a number of sensitive and ongoing issues related to national security that are more appropriately handled through an orderly amendment process ensuring timely consideration of this important measure,” Sessions wrote to lawmakers.

There were 173 amendments filed to the bill as of Thursday afternoon. Eight amendments would restrict U.S. military aid or action without congressional approval in some form, while three limited funding to the NSA’s surveillance programs.

Two of the similarly written NSA amendments are from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who vowed on Twitter this week to “defund NSA's unconstitutional spying on Americans” through the Defense Appropriations bill.

Defense Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) said that he hopes the bill will be taken up to the floor next week. He deferred issues with the rule to House leaders.

“This is a very important bill,” Young said. “I’d like to get it on the floor and get it passed.”

— Russell Berman contributed.