House passes 2016 defense spending bill

The House on Thursday approved this year’s spending bill for the Pentagon in a 278-149 vote.

Passage of the $579 billion bill came after the White House threatened a veto of the legislation over insufficient funding levels and controversial policy riders that would prohibit funds from being used to transfer detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay to the United States. 

{mosads}It also passed despite heavy opposition among Democrats and some conservatives over the use of a war fund to boost defense spending next year.

Republicans added $38 billion to the war fund to give the Pentagon spending above the budget caps created by the sequester, but they left the limits in place for nondefense spending. Democrats and the White House want the sequester lifted in full.

It’s the sixth 2016 spending bill to be approved by the House, with six more to go. Neither chamber has been able to pass all 12 of the individual spending bills in years.

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 an authorization for use of military force against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). His amendment would prohibit the use of funds for airstrikes against ISIS after March 2016 unless Congress passes a bill that specifically authorizes it.

“It’s worth having Congress do its job,” Schiff said. “If we’re going to ask our service members to risk their lives, we ought to have the courage ourselves to make a vote on this war.”

But Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) warned that the amendment would eliminate the Obama administration’s ability to implement its military campaign. The Obama administration is relying on the 2001 and 2002 authorizations of military force intended for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“This amendment is not about substance, it’s about symbolism. Unfortunately, its effect would be much more than symbolism. Acceptance of this amendment would rob our nation of one of the key authorities our commander in chief relies on to keep us safe,” Frelinghuysen said.

The House also defeated two amendments from Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) that would have prohibited funds from being used for the Pentagon to transfer flash-bang grenades and armored vehicles to local police departments.

The House rejected Democratic amendments to eliminate provisions in the bill prohibiting the use of funds to transfer or release detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison. And the House turned down an amendment from Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) to prevent funds from being used to provide legal counsel to any foreign detainees at the military prison.

The House also rebuffed two amendments late Wednesday night to eliminate funding allocated for training and arming vetted Syrian rebels and Iraqi forces to combat ISIS. 

Additionally, the bill would provide 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 for the military to purchase Navy ships, guided missile destroyers, Blackhawk helicopters, tanker aircraft, F-35 aircraft and combat ships.

Despite an attempt by the Air Force to retire the A-10 Warthog fleet, a Cold War-era jet that provides close air support for ground troops, the funding bill ensures that the aircrafts remain in service.

As with other individual appropriations bills, the House considered the defense measure under a process that allows lawmakers to offer an unlimited number of amendments. But each amendment was restricted to 10 minutes of debate, resulting in remarkably short debates about major defense policies regarding Guantanamo Bay and the U.S. strategy to fight ISIS.

The lower chamber has already passed bills funding military construction programs and the Department of Veterans Affairs, energy and water programs, legislative operations, the Commerce and Justice departments and science agencies, and transportation and housing programs. 

The Senate marked up and advanced its version of the Pentagon’s spending bill Thursday. 

Senate Democrats, however, have threatened to block all GOP-sponsored spending bills until sequestration funding levels are increased across the board. 

Tags Adam Schiff Guantánamo Bay Islamic State of Iraq and Syria Rodney Frelinghuysen

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