By John Isaacs
The House concluded consideration of the annual defense bill; a bad bill out of the Armed Services Committee was made worse on the House floor, aided and abetted by the House Rules Committee.
The bill was built on a huge budget gimmick; it takes the $58.8 billion Overseas Contingency Operations budget – a slush fund if there ever was one – and transfers $18 billion from operations and readiness to pay for projects in the regular budget.
Using this procedure, the war funds necessary to support operations overseas will run out in April 2017, leaving troops out to dry and very little time for the new Administration to request funds and Congress to approve them. This funding strategy has already drawn the ire of the Pentagon, the White House, and the Senate.
The irony of the situation is palpable. Many members complained about the perceived decline in military readiness, then supported the very initiatives that syphoned funds from troop operations and allocate it towards parochial interests.
Another aspect of the bill under criticism is the manner by which the House Rules Committee played traffic cop with pending amendments. Leadership in the Rules Committee, which dictates the nature of debate on a bill and which amendments are permitted to be debated, stacked the deck to avoid votes on amendments they didn’t want to debate or were not confident they could win.
A prime example: The Armed Services Committee voted to require women to serve in the draft. Rather than permit a vote on a thorny issue, the Rules Committee set up a “self-executing” procedure to eliminate that provision without a House floor vote.
Rep. Adam Smith, Ranking Member on the House Armed Services Committee, expressed profound disappointment with both the legislation adopted and the process by which the Rules Committee dictated debate.
Rep. Smith pointed his frustration towards the handling of an anti-LGBT provision in the bill. The provision, added in committee, would allow federal contractors to discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation. There was bipartisan support for an amendment to strike the provision, but the Rules Committee denied it a vote. As Rep. Smith said, “The larger problem here is: Why couldn’t we vote on it.?”
Rep. Smith pointed out, “Anything that is inconvenient for the majority to vote on or, even more distressingly, anything that they think will be inconvenient for us to vote on the bill gets struck.”
Ranking House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern was also frustrated by the process: “It is not an open process. Almost 200 amendments were not made in order. That is just not right.”
Rep. Jim McGovern had an amendment to require a vote to adopt a new Authorization to Use Military Force for the on-going wars in Iraq and Syria. The Rules Committee would not permit it to see the light of day.
Another Rules Committee tactic: they are more than willing to permit votes on Democratic amendments that will be clobbered on the House floor, including a 1% cut in the defense budget, closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, and repealing the 2001 Authorization To Use Military Force adopted after the September 11 attacks. Each of these amendments was overwhelmingly defeated.
In short, the House has passed a bill that that was terrible out of the Armed Services Committee and only got worse after permitted amendments were adopted.
On to the Senate.