Overnight Defense

OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House passes defense spending bill

THE TOPLINE: The House approved a $579 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal year 2016.

The 278-149 vote came after the White House threatened a veto of the legislation over insufficient funding and divisive policy riders that would prohibit funds being used to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter appeared at Wednesday’s Democratic caucus meeting to discuss the administration’s opposition to the GOP appropriations proposal.

Shortly before final passage, the House defeated, 196-231, an amendment authored by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) that would force Congress to vote on authorizing military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

{mosads}His amendment would have prohibited the use of funds for airstrikes against ISIS after March 2016 unless Congress passes a bill specifically authorizing the fight.

The defense spending bill provides a 2.3 percent pay raise for members of the military instead of President Obama’s requested 1.3 percent increase.

It also includes funding to keep the A-10 “Warthog” airborne for another year and money to purchase Navy ships, guided missile destroyers, Blackhawk helicopters, tanker aircraft, F-35 aircraft and combat ships.

SENATE PANEL PASSES DEFENSE SPENDING BILL: The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 27-3 on Thursday to pass a $575.9 billion defense spending bill, setting the stage for a fight over budget caps.

Only three Democrats voted against the bill, but Democratic leaders say they will block the bill when it hits the floor next week. 

“Democrats will vote against the motion to proceed … not because we want to be pugnacious … but because we want to end sequester,” said the committee’s top Democrat Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.). 

Democrats object to the bill, since it keeps in place sequester budget limits but skirts those caps on defense by boosting a Pentagon war fund.

Democrats are pressing Republicans to lift the caps for nondefense spending as well and say they will block consideration of all spending bills until GOP leaders agree to a budget summit.

The president has threatened to veto any bill that adheres to the caps and has urged Congress to lift the limits.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, urged Republicans to begin talks on lifting the caps and avoid a potential government shutdown in October when the new fiscal year starts.

“Why do we want to wait until September to have this talk?” Durbin said. “We’re trying to have this high-level mature conversation now.” 

An amendment from Durbin to move $38 billion from the war fund to the base budget failed in a party line 14-16 vote. 

However, the committee did vote 18-12 to adopt a measure by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) to express the sense of the Senate that the budget caps should be lifted. 

Committee members also debated another amendment from Durbin and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to allow the Obama administration to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees to maximum-security prisons in the U.S.  

Durbin argued that it cost $3.2 million per year to house a detainee at the Cuban prison, versus $70,000 to house them at a super-max facility in the U.S. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a retired Air Force colonel and a 2016 presidential candidate, argued the funding for Guantánamo is “money well spent.”

“I hope we fill the damn place up,” he said. The amendment failed 14-16. 

MCCONNELL MOVES TO END DEBATE ON POLICY BILL: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) moved to end debate Thursday on an annual defense policy bill after Democrats blocked a deal on additional changes to the bill, reports The Hill’s Jordain Carney.

McConnell had offered to remove a provision by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) from the policy bill on the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, and to debate it after a Senate appropriations bill was bill was passed, but Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blocked him, calling the offer a “facade.” 

“Putting it after the defense appropriations bill is a false promise,” he said. “I think it’s clear, I heard the Republican leader give a speech down here today, and he knows, unless there’s some changes made, we’re not going to get on the defense appropriations bill.” 

Senate Democrats have vowed to block consideration of the defense appropriations bill. 

McConnell’s move means the defense policy bill could be voted on as early as Tuesday. 

The bill has garnered a veto threat from the White House because of an extra $38 billion in war funding that would help the Defense Department avoid the budget caps under the sequester. 

Senate Democrats haven’t said if they’ll block the defense bill from being passed.

HOUSE PANEL PASSED BILL WITH BENGHAZI MEASURE: The House Appropriations Committee unanimously adopted a nearly $48 billion bill to fund the State Department and foreign operations that includes a provision to force the administration to cooperate with the chamber’s probe in the Benghazi, Libya, attacks.

The legislation contains a policy rider to withhold 15 percent of the State Department’s operational funds, unless it turns over documents faster to the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

The panel voted 30-20 to defeat an amendment by ranking Democrat Nita Lowey (N.Y.) to strike the language.

Lowey said the provision is “merely latest effort in the Republican crusade to profit politically from the tragedy of Benghazi.”

Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) admitted that 15 percent is a “pretty severe” amount but said the State Department “doesn’t recognize they are responsive to the American public through the Congress.”

Jamal Ware, a spokesman for Benghazi panel, chided Democrats for their opposition.

“Democrats continue to oppose government transparency for the American people and attack the Select Committee. What is it exactly they are afraid the people will find?” he asked in a statement.


– US spending $9M a day in ISIS fight

– Iraq vet House Democrat: We need a ‘serious’ strategy in Iraq

– Navy to christen ship in honor of Gabby Giffords

– Spending panel moves toward sequestration relief

– Va. teen pleads guilty to aiding ISIS on Twitter


Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com, and Martin Matishak, mmatishak@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill, @kristina_wong, @martinmatishak

Tags Adam Schiff Barbara Mikulski Dianne Feinstein Dick Durbin Harry Reid Jeanne Shaheen Lindsey Graham Mitch McConnell Richard Burr

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