Policy & Strategy

House passes $595 billion defense spending bill

Members approved the 2014 spending bill, H.R. 2397, in a 315-109 vote. The final bill won broad support from Democrats, as 95 of them joined Republicans to pass it.

House consideration of the bill was delayed for a week, as members wrestled with how to deal with controversial amendments dealing with Egypt, Syria and the intelligence activities of the NSA.

{mosads}Republicans ultimately allowed two amendments aimed at limiting NSA activities. Language from Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), which would have ended NSA’s authority to collect data from people unless they are subject to an investigation, drew opposition and a coordinated campaign from the White House to ensure it was voted down.

The House ultimately rejected Amash’s tougher language. But it accepted an amendment from Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) ensuring no funds in the bill can be used by the NSA to intentionally target U.S. citizens or store their communications data.

GOP leaders also decided to allow votes on two amendments on Egypt and Syria that were non-controversial and were approved in easy voice votes.

The legislation provides for $512.5 billion in non-war funding and about $82.3 billion for war operations. That latter number was $3.5 billion higher, but the House approved an amendment Wednesday to cut that amount, since it was more than the Obama administration requested.

Members also agreed to cut $140 million from the Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund, revealing the ongoing frustration that many members in both parties have with continuing to fund construction efforts there.

Closer to home, the House took steps to ease the burden that the Defense Department is facing because of the sequester. First, members accepted language from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) that prohibits the furloughing of these officials in 2014.

That language would likely reopen the discussion of how to apply the Defense Department spending cuts if it finds its way into U.S. law this year.

Additionally, the House passed an amendment from Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) that would cut $1 billion from the Afghanistan Security Forces fund, and allow the Defense Department to use that money to cope with the sequester.

On a related issue, the bill funds a pay raise for members of the military, and sets aside $580 million for this purpose.

Members rejected several Democratic attempts to allow terrorist detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to be released into the U.S. or to other countries. An amendment from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) was rejected that would have prevented the further expansion of facilities in Guantanamo Bay.

A report this year that sexual assaults in the military have increased by more than a third between 2010 and 2012 led to outrage among many members of Congress. In response, members included language in the spending bill that prohibits the Defense Department from allowing people to enlist in the military if they have been convicted of rape or other sex-related crimes.

In June, the House voted to establish a minimum sentence of dismissal for sexual assault offenders, expand legal counsel to victims of sexual abuse, and remove service members who have inappropriate relationships with the people they train.

The defense bill is the fourth of twelve 2014 spending bills the House has approved this year, and passage sends it to the Senate. But like the other three bills the House has passed, President Obama has threatened to veto this bill unless it’s part of a broader budget framework.

Obama and congressional Democrats have said Republicans are overspending on defense and underspending on social programs, and are pushing House Republicans for a conference with the Senate to agree on a single budget plan.

But a conference seems unlikely, and the lack of progress in Congress on the spending bills continues to fuel speculation that Congress will have to negotiate another continuing resolution.

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