Republican leaders of the House Rules Committee talked about the full and fair debate on the Fiscal Year 2015 Defense Authorization Bill.
A total of 322 amendments were originally submitted to the House Rules Committee for consideration, a body that acts as traffic cop determining which amendments will be allowed to come up on the House floor and which will not.
That Committee ruled about 169 amendments in order for debate, demonstrating, according to the Rules Committee, a willingness to have the House consider many key national security issues affecting the country.
Florida Republican Richard Nugent, who managed the rule establishing these procedures, defended them on the House floor yesterday: “It has been impressive this year as compared to other years, and unprecedented … it is kind of unprecedented the amount of debate that we have had already on the NDAA.”
That’s the official line.
The reality is in sharp contrast. Of those 169 amendments, 150 were adopted by voice vote, mostly in seven so-called “en bloc” packages put together with the consent of the Republican and Democratic leaders on the House Armed Services Committee.
That is, they were either non-controversial or bargained to a weakened state that allowed them to fly through the House with minimal or no debate.
Another seven amendments were withdrawn or not offered.
That left all of 11 recorded votes.
How did the Armed Services Committee manage to tame what could have been a long and contentious debate on the size of the military budget, the war in Afghanistan, Iran, the rejection of proposed Pentagon budget savings, conflict in Syria and many more issues into simply 11 votes?
In many cases, they prodded Members to water down their amendments. In others, they permitted recorded votes on amendments they knew they could win and blocked votes on amendments they were not sure they could control.
An amendment by McGovern (D-MA), Jones (R-NC) and Smith (D-WA) to mandate a vote on retaining troops in Afghanistan? Sorry, the GOP would not allow it to come up.
As Rep. Jim McGovern pointed out: “When Speaker Boehner became the Speaker of the House, he made a pledge that he would allow the House to work its will on major issues.”
But not this issue, McGovern argued: “Our troops and their families deserve a debate, and Congress has the responsibility to give it to them. But no. But no. I don’t know what the Republican leadership is afraid of.”
An amendment by Smith (D-WA) on base closings? Evidently too hot to handle.
An amendment by Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) and Larsen (D-WA) to suggest that NATO should pay part of the billions of dollars in costs of deploying U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe? Sorry, the Republican leadership was not sure it could control the result.
Surprisingly, one Democratic amendment did pass, offered by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) requiring annual Congressional Budget Office studies of the cost of U.S. nuclear forces – despite opposition from the leadership of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
But a full and fair debate? No, indeed.
Instead: A kind of managed democracy practiced in certain parts of the world.