House approves defense bill, Senate ready to vote next week

The House of Representatives passed its version of defense spending appropriations for 2016 yesterday, a $579 billion package that passed with the support of only 43 Democrats, 278-149. $40 billion of that money is not subject to sequestration limits set by the 2011 Budget Control Act, and instead will be placed in an off-budget Pentagon account that funds overseas wars.

Washington Democrats are solidly united in the effort to lift the budget caps entirely, both for defense and domestic spending programs. In fact, President Obama has threatened to veto any bill which does not treat both sides of federal spending equally.

To that end, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that “the defense appropriations bill is bad budgeting and harmful to military planning, perpetuating uncertainty and instability in the defense budget…”

An unlimited number of amendments were allowed to be offered to the bill, but each only had a time limit of 10 minutes for debate.

One of the most controversial amendments to be offered was one by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), which would prohibit appropriations for the use of force against ISIS after March 31, 2016. After that, in order to continue U.S. support of the Iraq military and Syrian rebel army, Congress would have to vote to reauthorize legislation for the use of military force in that region.

The House defense bill also raises military member’s pay by 2.3% next year, one percent more than what President Obama had requested.

The Senate also passed it’s own version of a defense spending bill on Thursday, albeit only out of committee (27-3). Democrats in the upper-chamber are vowing to deny it a vote when Republicans attempt to bring it to the floor next week though.

Barbara Mikulski (MD), ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said “Democrats will vote against the motion to proceed…not because we want to be pugnacious…but because we want to end sequester.”

It looks like the Democrats in fact have a good chance for success in the fight over skirting sequestration requirements for all federal programs. The Senate needs 13 Democratic members (assuming all Republicans vote ‘Yes’) to over-ride a promised presidential veto of a defense appropriations bill that doesn’t do away with budget caps put in place four years ago.

What seems less certain is the U.S. role in Iraq and Syria in relation to ISIS. The Senate version of the defense bill also had a proposed amendment rejected which would have prohibited the use of funds for deploying U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS, without a re-authorization bill. The amendment, offered by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), failed 9-21 in committee with at least five Democrats voting against the bill, including Sen. Mikulski.

 

[AP] [The Hill]