White House

Vote on Spending Bill Postponed Amid Syria Debate

Obama seeks authority to arm and train rebels.

A rebel fighter burns a Syrian flag found in a building that belonged to Syrian government forces in the northern city of Aleppo on November 21, 2013. Fighting for a key military base outside Syria's main northern city of Aleppo killed at least 15 pro-government militiamen, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
National Journal
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Daniel Newhauser
Sept. 10, 2014, 8:25 a.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans have post­poned a vote that was planned for Thursday on a must-pass spend­ing bill, as they grapple with an el­ev­enth-hour re­quest from the White House to in­clude an au­thor­iz­a­tion to arm and train Syr­i­an rebels.

House Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Kev­in Mc­Carthy an­nounced the post­pone­ment Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon after the White House dis­patched of­fi­cials to the Cap­it­ol for a clas­si­fied brief­ing with bi­par­tis­an stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing mem­bers of the lead­er­ship and the Ap­pro­pri­ations, Armed Ser­vices, For­eign Af­fairs, and In­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees.

That came after Pres­id­ent Obama re­ques­ted the au­thor­iz­a­tion from lead­ers at a White House meet­ing Tues­day, and as the ad­min­is­tra­tion fol­lowed up with a flurry of late-night phone calls to mem­bers of lead­er­ship and the Ap­pro­pri­ations com­mit­tees ask­ing that they in­clude the au­thor­iz­a­tion in a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion.

House Re­pub­lic­ans are reti­cent to in­clude the meas­ure in the CR. But GOP lead­ers are con­cerned that Demo­crats will with­hold votes for the CR if they do not in­clude the au­thor­iz­a­tion in the meas­ure. Demo­crat­ic votes will be para­mount to pass the bill, since many con­ser­vat­ives ob­ject to the Ex­port-Im­port Bank reau­thor­iz­a­tion in­cluded in it and the fact that the meas­ure ex­tends spend­ing au­thor­ity in­to Decem­ber, not in­to 2015.

House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi said Wed­nes­day that Con­gress should give Obama the au­thor­ity he sought “as soon as pos­sible.”

Asked wheth­er it should be at­tached to the spend­ing bill, she said: “Well, we want it to be on whatever en­gine is leav­ing the sta­tion, and that’s one that is leav­ing the sta­tion. That’s for sure a must-pass bill in a time-cer­tain peri­od of time. And I would hope that it would be on there.”

House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee Chair­man Mike Ro­gers said a sim­il­ar re­quest faced op­pos­i­tion in the past be­cause mem­bers felt the mis­sion was not clear, but he is wait­ing to hear from the ad­min­is­tra­tion be­fore de­cid­ing wheth­er to sup­port this re­quest.

“It’s a big is­sue, it’s crit­ic­ally im­port­ant. A lot of mem­bers have a lot of strong feel­ings about it,” said one GOP aide. “It’s sort of an is­sue that’s too big for a CR. It rises above the tra­di­tion­al con­straints of a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion.”

An­oth­er top Re­pub­lic­an aide said “this isn’t a new re­quest, and it has thus far faced bi­par­tis­an op­pos­i­tion.”

But the polit­ics are dif­fi­cult to ig­nore. Re­pub­lic­ans are wary of seem­ing un­sup­port­ive of a pres­id­ent in the run-up to a mil­it­ary cam­paign heav­ily sup­por­ted by the Amer­ic­an pub­lic. As one Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Re­pub­lic­an noted, the GOP heav­ily cri­ti­cized Demo­crats for push­ing back against Pres­id­ent George W. Bush dur­ing his cam­paign in Ir­aq, so they can­not be per­ceived as do­ing the same to Obama.

Still, the con­cerns are bi­par­tis­an. One Demo­crat­ic aide noted there are many ques­tions about the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s abil­ity to arm Syr­i­an mod­er­ates while keep­ing weapons and equip­ment out of the hands of forces loy­al to Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad, against whom Obama asked Con­gress to au­thor­ize mil­it­ary strikes last year.

There is also the mat­ter of pro­ced­ur­al hurdles. The con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion is already writ­ten, and would have to be re­writ­ten to in­clude the mil­it­ary au­thor­iz­a­tion. A House Rules Com­mit­tee hear­ing that had been sched­uled for 2 p.m. has been post­poned as law­makers sort through the Syr­ia is­sue.

Either way, mem­bers are push­ing back against the idea of adding an au­thor­iz­ing meas­ure to a spend­ing bill. Pro­ponents of the mil­it­ary meas­ure, however, are also push­ing back, not­ing that the CR already in­cludes at least two ma­jor au­thor­iz­a­tions: the Ex­port Im­port Bank and an In­ter­net tax meas­ure.

House Re­pub­lic­ans will hold a spe­cial con­fer­ence meet­ing Thursday morn­ing to dis­cuss the situ­ation in Ir­aq and Syr­ia, and any re­quests in­cluded in the pres­id­ent’s speech on the situ­ation sched­uled for Wed­nes­day night.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id has already ex­pressed sup­port for grant­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­quest. And Sen­ate Demo­crats could choose to move sep­ar­ate le­gis­la­tion on the sub­ject if the House does not at­tach it to the CR they send across the Cap­it­ol.

“It’s clear to me that we need to train and equip Syr­i­an rebels and oth­er groups in the Middle East,” Re­id said on the Sen­ate floor. “It’s called Title 10 au­thor­ity. The pres­id­ent has tried to get that from us and we should give it to him. That’s one way of help­ing to build an in­ter­na­tion­al co­ali­tion. Con­gress should do that.”

Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski would not say wheth­er she would add the meas­ure in­to a CR and send it back to the House if the House does not in­clude it in their spend­ing meas­ure.

“We want to see what the House is go­ing to do,” she said in an in­ter­view on her way to meet with Re­id about the mat­ter. “It’s not my de­cision alone, it’s something in con­sulta­tion with the lead­er­ship, but we’re wait­ing for the House’s ac­tions.”

A Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide, however, noted that the cham­ber could pass the au­thor­iz­a­tion as a freest­and­ing meas­ure and send it back to the House sep­ar­ately from a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion, if need be.

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