House GOP pushes forward on Defense bill amid amendment fight

House Republican leaders pushed forward Monday with the Defense Appropriations bill amid a dispute over limiting amendments that has pitted GOP leadership against the party’s conservative wing.

The Pentagon spending bill is expected to go to the floor this week with restricted amendments, as there are concerns over measures that would tie President Obama’s hands in Syria and Egypt or attempt to de-fund the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

The House Rules Committee was meeting Monday evening to hear testimony on amendments to the Pentagon spending bill, and would later propose the rule for the measure.

The potential move has been criticized by a group of libertarian-leaning and Tea Party conservatives led by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who have called for an open amendment process and may try to join with Democrats to defeat the rule on the House floor.

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The plan was also criticized by a group of 11 conservative organizations, who wrote to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Monday urging him to open up the bill for votes on all amendments.

The move highlights another division between House GOP leadership and the Republican rank-and-file, particularly Tea Party conservatives and libertarian-leaning members.

Restricting amendments on the Defense spending bill under a structured rule — which would require the Rules Committee to approve all amendments that receive a vote on the floor — would be a departure from the appropriations process since Republican took control of the House in 2011, as nearly all spending bills have been considered with an open rule.

Defense Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) noted at the hearing that he had never before brought a Defense bill to the floor without an open rule, but said he supported whatever rule he was given.

Democrats on the Rules panel urged the committee to consider the bill with an open amendment process. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) questioned whether Republican leaders were “afraid of the will of the house or the majority of the House?”

Without saying explicitly that the Defense bill’s rule would limit amendments, House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) described a difficult balancing act between national security and the consideration of amendments that members have strong opinions on.

Young argued that some of the amendments that were filed — indirectly referring to the NSA proposals — could not be considered in an open session because of the classified material.

“If I have to respond to some of the amendments I have seen in an open session, it’s not a fair fight,” Young said.

Amash made a short statement to the committee on his amendment to curb NSA domestic spying, saying that it “simply allows the voice of the people through their elected representatives to be heard.”

Asked by the committee to respond to Young's contention, Amash said that his amendment did not require the discussion of any classified information. 

“All we need to do is debate a simple question: Should we fund the NSA’s potential collection of Americans’ information?" Amash said. “The discussion is things that have been released by the director of national intelligence.”

There were 180 amendments filed to the bill as of Monday afternoon, including nine dealing with Syria and three on the NSA. The committee began hearing from members on the amendments

The Defense spending bill is also caught in the midst of the sequestration fight, even though the measure is close to the 2014 topline proposed by the Obama administration.

The White House threatened to veto the Defense Appropriations bill on Monday — like all the House’s spending bills — because the legislation is set under a lower discretionary topline passed in the House Republican budget.