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House Readies Debate on Defense Amendments

Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, followed here by Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, sponsored the language to provide money for a border wall with Mexico. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, followed here by Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, sponsored the language to provide money for a border wall with Mexico. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House Rules Committee on Wednesday approved a structured rule governing floor debate for amendments to the fiscal 2018 defense appropriations bill, the final piece of the four-bill minibus spending package on the House floor.

Legislators will work through 54 amendments in the defense measure (HR 3219) during debate Thursday, including language to restrict spending defense funds on certain projects in Afghanistan and Yemen and efforts to add funds for missile defense and other weapons programs.

Perhaps the most controversial portion of the defense bill is $1.57 billion to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The language, offered by Texas Republican John Carter, is self-executing, meaning that it is automatically included in the bill upon adoption of the rule and is exempt from floor debate.

The Rules Committee used the same tactic to strip from the 2018 defense authorization act (HR 2810) amendments that would have prohibited funds from being used to construct physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders.

The three other spending bills, Energy-Water (HR 3266), Legislative Branch (HR 3162) and Military Construction-VA (HR 2998), have been bundled with the defense appropriations measure for a single vote on floor passage. Debate on those three bills is already underway on the House floor.

Lawmakers approved the rule for debate on the defense spending measure on a 7-4 party-line vote. For the rule, the panel voted to allow debate on 21 amendments from Democrats, 16 Republican amendments and 17 bipartisan amendments out of the nearly 150 amendments submitted for consideration.

An amendment from Reps. Peter Welch of Vermont and Barbara Lee of California that would prohibit defense funds from being spent on uniforms for the Afghan National Army was among the Democrat-backed amendments adopted in the rule.

Debate on the amendment will follow testimony from three top U.S. auditors who on Tuesday told the House Armed Services Committee that the Defense Department had spent as much as $28 million buying “unnecessary, untested and costly” uniforms for the Afghan military since 2008.

Rep. Warren Davidson also wants fewer defense dollars spent on overseas conflicts. The Ohio Republican offered an amendment that would bar Pentagon funds from being spent on military action in Yemen that does not conform to the War Powers Resolution. Currently, U.S. ally Saudi Arabia is embroiled in the Yemeni Civil War, which has pitted Saudi-backed forces against Iranian proxies.

The panel approved a series of amendments that would put millions more into defense acquisition funds.

Wisconsin Republican Glenn Grothman offered two amendments that would take a total of $56.2 million from the Defense-wide operation and maintenance account and instead allocate $30 million to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle account and $26.2 million to procure MK-48 torpedoes.

Another amendment from Nevada Democrat Jacky Rosen would move $6 million from the Defense-wide operations and maintenance accounts and reallocate the funds for Army missile technology.

Republican Rules Committee members Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Bradley Byrne of Alabama want to bolster U.S. missile defense. The panel cleared their amendment that would allow the Defense secretary to use funds from the proposed National Defense Restoration Fund on urgent or emergent missile defense requirements.

The Restoration Fund, which was created earlier this year by the House Appropriations Committee, has a long path to implementation, however, as the Senate will likely oppose its size and scope .

Rep. Jared Polis will try for the second time this month to reduce overall defense spending. The Colorado Democrat offered an amendment that would trim 1 percent from the Pentagon’s budget, with military personnel and defense health programs excluded from the cut. A similar amendment from Polis failed on the floor during debate on the 2018 defense authorization bill.

A late amendment offered by California Democrat Scott Peters, and co-sponsored by four other Democrats, that would have prohibited funds from being used to implement a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military was defeated by a 6-4 party-line vote. The amendment’s defeat follows President Donald Trump’s announcement via Twitter Wednesday morning that the U.S. military would no longer “allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity.”

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