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US House Amendments Target NSA, Aid Dollars, East Coast Missile Shield

Jul. 23, 2013 - 08:00PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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WASHINGTON — US House members this week will debate and vote on 100 amendments to a Pentagon spending bill that include giving weapon programs more cash, sending diplomatic signals, defunding a GOP-proposed missile shield and spending less in Afghanistan.

After a week of delays as members and House leaders debated over the shape of the rules for floor action on the 2014 defense appropriations bill, the chamber’s Rules Committee on Monday night cleared the legislation to hit the floor on Tuesday.

The Rules Committee has approved exactly 100 amendments, including controversial ones that focus on the NSA’s email surveillance programs, as well as US aid to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Egypt.

The amendments that will be debated this week also propose additional funding for several Pentagon weapon programs, most proposing to shift the additional funds from other items within the DoD budget.

GOP House leadership schedules indicate work on the Pentagon spending bill will begin Tuesday afternoon and likely wrap up on Thursday.

Two amendments would place restrictions on the NSA’s ability to monitor the email traffic of people inside the United States. In the wake of the NSA scandal set off by a former Booz Allen Hamilton contractor who disclosed several such programs to the press, debate on these measures should provide the week’s most explosive moments.

One being pushed by Rep. Richard Nugent, R-Fla., proposes that none of the funds appropriated in the final 2014 defense spending bill could be “used by the NSA to target a US person or acquire and store the content of a US person’s communications, including phone calls and emails,” according to a summary of the amendments released Monday evening by the office of House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.

Another proposes to end what it calls the “authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act,” as well as proposing to bar the NSA and other agencies from “using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.”

It is being pushed by conservative GOP Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, liberal Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan and other members.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Ranking Member Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., are lobbying against the NSA amendment.

“The FISA business records program has contributed to disrupting numerous terrorist attacks against our nation. It has been reviewed and authorized by all three branches of government and is subject to strict controls,” the two said in a joint statement. “Since the public disclosure of the business records program, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has explored how the program can be modified to add extra privacy protections without sacrificing its effectiveness.

“We believe this debate in the Congressional Intelligence and Judiciary committees should continue and that any amendments to defund the program on appropriations bills would be unwise,” Feinstein and Chambliss said.

With tensions still high in Egypt and the future of its government — and its longtime relationship with Washington — very much in doubt, another Amash amendment targets US aid dollars to Cairo.

This amendment proposes that no funds from the 2014 defense appropriations bill be used to pay for “military or paramilitary operations in Egypt,” according to Cantor’s summary. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., also is listed as a sponsor of that amendment.

Afghanistan also is very much on members’ minds, specifically, using funds the Pentagon wants to spend on its still-young military for other things. For instance, Rep. Lee Terry, R-Texas, will offer a plan to shrink the “Afghanistan Security Forces Fund” by over $2.5 billion; he wants to use those funds instead to “give DoD more flexibility to offset civilian furloughs.”

Obama administration officials and military brass, however, have long said building up a strong Afghan military and police force is the best chance of preventing the Taliban and al-Qaida from returning to Afghanistan after US and Western forces leave next year.

Another amendment, offered by Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, proposes to take over $130 million requested by the administration for the “Afghanistan Infrastructure Fund” and apply the alleged savings to help pare the US federal deficit.

Reflecting Washington’s continued rocky relationship with Pakistan, Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, is proposing a measure that would slash US aid to Islamabad by $600 million.

House members also are jockeying to provide cash infusions to some of their favorite weapon programs, an annual ritual in both chambers. Meantime, some members want to take funds away from big-ticket weapon programs and use those monies to help pay down the federal debt.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, wants her colleagues to approve a measure that would increase funds for the Navy’s Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare weapon and Air-Launched Long Range Anti-Ship Missile program by $104 million. Her amendment would fund the programs by decreasing operations and maintenance (O&M) accounts by the same amount.

Another amendment would take $22 million slated for O&M and instead direct it to Navy coffers for “advanced submarine systems development.”

House Armed Services intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee Ranking Member Rep. James Langevin, D-R.I., is pushing an amendment that would take $5 million from O&M accounts and use it instead “for the purpose of restoring the funding for cyber security advanced research to the amount requested in the president’s [2014] budget [request].”

Pentagon officials for months, however, have argued that additional O&M cuts will further hinder training and platform maintenance, some of which have been delayed or canceled because of sequestration.

Not every member wants to plus-up a pet project, however. Several Democrats are looking to use the defense bill to further pare the massive federal deficit.

Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler of New York and James Garamendi of Californian are coming after a GOP-proposed East Coast missile shield. The duo’s amendment targets the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee’s plan to devote $70 million to the proposed project in 2014; instead, the lawmakers will propose using those dollars for deficit reduction.

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., will pitch a plan to remove $107 million slated for 14 new ground-based interceptor missiles and use the dollars instead to pare the deficit.

Conyers and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., will offer an amendment to slash the Navy’s request for the Ohio-class submarine program by 10 percent and devote the funds to helping the Pentagon better deal with sequestration.

And several Democratic-pushed amendments propose reducing various Pentagon accounts by $1 million to $2 million, using the funds instead to shrink the deficit.

And Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., is offering a plan in lockstep with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s intention to shrink by 20 percent all Pentagon and combatant command staffs. Grayson’s amendment would prohibit any use of funds allocated for 2014 to be spent to foster a “net increase of additional flag or general officers above current levels.”

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