The ‘Sequester Pakistan’ Act and 2013’s Other Doomed Defense Bills

Behind Ted Poe’s plan to block Pakistan’s billions unless a troop tuition plan was reinstated.

U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) (L) speaks as Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) (R) listens during a news conference June 15, 2010 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Members of the Gulf Coast Congressional delegation called on the Obama Administration for an end to the moratorium on new deepwater drilling. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Dec. 26, 2013, midnight

The U.S. gave an es­tim­ated $1.157 bil­lion in for­eign aid to Pakistan in fisc­al 2013. That’s a sliv­er of the fed­er­al budget — or even of just the de­fense budget — but any way you shave it, a bil­lion dol­lars is not noth­ing.

Then again, neither is the gov­ern­ment’s in­terest in keep­ing Pakistan stable. Along with be­ing home to nearly 200 mil­lion people, the coun­try is a key ful­crum in the U.S. glob­al cam­paign against Al Qaida and oth­er self-iden­ti­fied Muslim ter­ror­ist or­gan­iz­a­tions. It wields tre­mend­ous in­flu­ence over Afgh­anistan. And, lest any­one for­get, it’s the own­er of a nuc­le­ar weapon.

But even if the fund­ing is deemed to be crit­ic­al to na­tion­al se­cur­ity, if the U.S. can find ap­prox­im­ately $1.16 bil­lion for Pakistan, can it not find ap­prox­im­ately $560 mil­lion to fund a pro­gram to help sol­diers pay their col­lege tu­ition?

That was the ar­gu­ment of Texas Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Ted Poe, au­thor of the 2013 “Se­quester Pakistan Act,” which would freeze fisc­al year 2013 aid to Pakistan un­til the De­fense De­part­ment’s Mil­it­ary Tu­ition As­sist­ance Pro­gram re­ceived at least the same amount of fund­ing it got in fisc­al year 2012. Poe’s pro­gram fol­lowed an­nounce­ments in March by the Army, Air Force, Mar­ine Corps, and Coast Guard that the pro­gram would be sus­pen­ded for the re­mainder of the 2013 fisc­al year to help over­come lar­ger budget cuts man­dated by se­quest­ra­tion. The Navy — which spent ap­prox­im­ately $84 mil­lion in the 2012 fisc­al year — didn’t sus­pend its pro­gram.

Des­pite Poe’s gusto — and des­pite all the polit­ic­al ex­pedi­ency of sid­ing with U.S. sol­diers over a nom­in­al for­eign ally whose co­oper­a­tion is in­con­sist­ent at best — the bill went ex­actly nowhere. After its March in­tro­duc­tion, the meas­ure went to the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, and from there it quietly faded.

The bill was hardly alone. Of the 600-plus pieces of de­fense-re­lated le­gis­la­tion in­tro­duced in the House in 2013, more than two-thirds were simply re­ferred to a com­mit­tee and nev­er heard from again.

Most of those bills, Poe’s in­cluded, were not in­tro­duced in the hopes of passing. For many, it’s the act of in­tro­du­cing them that’s the point. When Poe rolled out his se­quester Pakistan plan, he used it as an op­por­tun­ity to cri­ti­cize — and to some ex­tent dis­tort — the way the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion was deal­ing with the man­dat­ory spend­ing cuts of the se­quester.

It’s a bi­par­tis­an tac­tic. New York Demo­crat­ic Rep. Car­o­lyn Mc­Carthy in­tro­duced an as­sault weapons ban in the House in Janu­ary — a cham­ber where even much milder gun-con­trol le­gis­la­tion would have gone nowhere. But she used the in­tro­duc­tion as an op­por­tun­ity to speak pub­licly about gun vi­ol­ence.

Cali­for­nia Demo­crat­ic Rep. Bar­bara Lee in­tro­duced a meas­ure in Feb­ru­ary that would cre­ate a cab­in­et-level De­part­ment of Peace­build­ing. In­tro­du­cing the bill is a bi-an­nu­al tra­di­tion that has been re­peated every ses­sion since former Demo­crat Den­nis Ku­cinich star­ted it in 2001.

And, every now and then, something un­ex­pec­ted hap­pens and one of the moon-shot meas­ures lands.

That’s what happened to Poe — at least in part. Pakistan is still slated to re­ceive U.S. for­eign aid, but mem­bers of Con­gress passed le­gis­la­tion earli­er this year dir­ect­ing the Pentagon to re­verse the se­quester’s ef­fects on as­sist­ance for mil­it­ary tu­ition for the 2013 fisc­al year.

The Coast Guard, which doesn’t fall un­der the De­fense De­part­ment but the De­part­ment of Home­land De­fense, wasn’t af­fected by the le­gis­la­tion, but it also re­star­ted its tu­ition as­sist­ance pro­gram.

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