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Congress Alert

Defense Appropriations Delayed -- Rebellion in the Works?

Faced with an unexpected groundswell of opposition to its highly unusual move to limit debate on the Defense Appropriations bill, as well as fears over a Floor fight on such contentious issues as the coup in Egypt, arming the Syrian rebels, and NSA spying, House leadership has made it clear that the bill is on hold until at least next week.

House leadership hoped to limit discussion of and potential votes on issues it considered too hot to handle by offering up a very unusual modified closed rule to govern the debate on the Floor of the Defense Appropriations legislation this week. As RPI reported earlier this week, appropriations bills are customarily debated under an open "five minute rule," whereby Members have the opportunity to offer up any amendment that does not violate Rule XXI, i.e. that does not seek to use legislative language to alter the underlying appropriations bill. What this means is that Members can move to strike funding for any program or policy or whatever they wish in the appropriations bill. Defunding a particular part of the legislation is in effect killing it, which of course does have policy implications. The amendment process in the appropriations bills is a key way that Members can make their concerns heard over the direction of the spending.

RPI has learned that several GOP Members had threatened House leadership with a vote against the rule if amendments on Syria, Egypt, and NSA spying were summarily rejected. Typically, rule votes proceed according to party lines, and breaking with one's party is a sign of open revolt usually over the process.

Late today, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) announced bipartisan amendments to the Defense Appropriations bill that would forbid the president from using any of the appropriated funds to support military or paramilitary actions in Egypt and Syria without Congressional approval. Massie's efforts reflect a growing Congressional restiveness over the president's unilateral announcement that the US would begin providing weapons to the Syrian rebels, which Massie describes as carrying the risk of "giving money and military assistance to our enemies."

Fellow Republican Justin Amash (R-MI) underscored Massie's concerns over the president's moves, stating that “Congress has not authorized force against Syria or Egypt, which the Constitution requires before military action. Once again, the administration is considering unilaterally intervening in foreign wars that the American people want nothing to do with.”

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) joined his colleagues in these amendments.

It remains to be seen how House leadership intends to handle an opposition to its DoD Appropriations gag rule that only seems to be picking up steam. Stay tuned until next week and keep an eye on RPI's Congress Alert!

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