House debates defense spending

The House continues to debate the annual defense spending bill Wednesday and is likely to consider controversial amendments that would defund domestic data-gathering by the National Security Agency and spike President Obama's plan to arm Syrian insurgents.

The administration has pulled out all the stops to defeat the data-gathering amendment, sending NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander to the Capitol to brief lawmakers in a classified setting about the programs revealed by NSA leaker Edward J. Snowden.

House Republican leaders have put limits on discussion of the must-pass legislation, the FY2014 Defense Appropriations Bill, allowing 100 amendments and scheduling three days of debate. A final vote is scheduled Thursday.

One amendment expected to come up Wednesday is proposed by GOP Rep. Tom Rooney of Florida and would prohibit funding to provide arms or other support to any group engaged in military action in Syria.

"With the knowledge that the Syrian rebels have been infiltrated by al Qaeda, we simply cannot in good conscience provide weapons to these groups," Mr. Rooney said in a statement.

"Arming the al Qaeda-backed rebels directly conflicts with our national security interests," he added.

Another amendment, proposed by fellow Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, would bar the National Security Agency from collecting the telephone records of any American not under investigation.

Mr. Snowden revealed last month that the NSA was collecting data about every telephone call made in America, using the so-called business records provision, Section 215 of the Patriot Act — that huge suite of counter-terrorism laws hastily passed by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The administration has pulled put all the stops to make sure the amendment doesn't pass. In addition to the briefing by Gen. Alexander, the White House has threatened to veto the bill if that provision is included.

That would be the first time any president has vetoed the defense spending bill since Jimmy Carter.

On the first day of debate on the bill Tuesday, Defense News reported, the House rejected Democratic proposals to cut $110 million in funds from missile defense programs critics say don't work and use the money for deficit reduction.

Rep. Jared Polis, of Colorado said the Pentagon's plan to shoot down missiles aimed at the United States by "rogue states" like Iran and North Korea would "be great, if it worked."

Mr Polis said the program's last successful test intercept occurred in 2008, Defense News reported. The "program is simply a failure so far. ... It would be foolish to throw good taxpayer money after bad," he said.

It has been well over a decade since the budget for the Defense Department, or indeed any other part of the U.S. government, passed in what lawmakers call "regular order" — according to the rules and procedures of Congress.

Instead, Pentagon funding numbers have been cobbled together from regular annual budgets plus "emergency" war funding measures; or stuffed together with other government departments in so-called "omnibus" spending bills; or, more recently as the row over deficits has derailed the passage of even big-picture budget measures, simply been continued at the previous year's levels in a hastily passed "continuing resolution."

This year, the continuing resolution, passed just in time for the start of the Fiscal Year Oct. 1, was subsequently amended to include the automatic across-the-board spending cuts called sequestration.


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