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Unclear Whether US House's Syria Plans Will Push Strikes to Late-September

Sep. 6, 2013 - 05:52PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
Obama Meets With Congressional Leaders On Syria At
U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner speaks to members of the media outside the White House after a meeting with President Obama on September 3. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Flashpoint: Syria

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WASHINGTON — It remains unclear whether the US House will simply move quickly to vote on a Syria use-of-force resolution the Senate could approve next week.

House GOP leaders and aides are holding their collective cards close on the lower chamber’s plans for a Syria debate and vote. But analysts and aides tell Defense News the House’s process will heavily influence when President Barack Obama will decide whether or not to strike Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.

But one House aide predicted the chamber will pass its own version.

“I don’t know why it would be,” the House aide said when asked if the chamber will merely take up a Senate-approved force resolution.

That’s because if House GOP leaders opt to move a version of a force resolution that is different from a Senate-passed version, a special conference committee would have to be formed to craft a compromise version.

That could take days.

Then, both chambers would have to vote again on that panel’s conference report. That would take at least one more day — and probably more, analysts and aides say.

While the House would likely amend a Senate-approved version, requiring a conference committee process, it would take even longer to sort out differences between completely separate versions.

The upshot of the still-developing congressional process set in motion by Obama himself last Saturday: American strikes would be furthered delayed while Congress does its work.

Several lawmakers — Democratic and Republican — this week raised concerns when questioned by reporters about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad being given more time to move potential US targets like parts of his chemical arsenal and the units trained to deliver them.

Lawrence Korb, a former Pentagon official now with the Center for American Progress, said Thursday he expects “the House will take up the Senate’s version.”

“I think they will probably, no matter what they end up passing, end up having to go to conference,” Korb said.

While some analysts and pundits have said Congress could complete its Syria work by the end of next week (Sept. 13), Korb said it might take another week.

“I think a conference would go pretty quickly,” he said. “They’ll have a pretty good idea of what the differences ahead of time.”

If Congress does not send a final force resolution to Obama until late in the week of Sept. 16, that could put off any US strikes until late-September.

Spokesmen for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., did not respond to a reporter’s inquires about taking up a Senate-approved Syria measure. The same is true for a spokeswoman for the House Rules Committee, which will set the guidelines for the lower chamber’s debate and vote.

Several House aides said this week they expected the chamber to take up whatever version the Senate might pass because, as one put it, “it has to be a concurrent resolution.”

But a House parliamentarian source, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, said that is not the case.

“There are some court decisions that bring into question whether a concurrent resolution would be sufficient,” the source said.

“I don’t think it could be a concurrent resolution because those do not go to the president for his signature,” the source said. “But a joint resolution would.”

The kind of vehicle chosen matters. For instance, concurrent resolutions cannot become law and, as the source said, are not sent to the White House.

“A legislative measure, designated "S. Con. Res." and numbered consecutively upon introduction, generally employed to address the sentiments of both chambers, to deal with issues or matters affecting both houses, such as a concurrent budget resolution, or to create a temporary joint committee,” according to a Senate parliamentarian office fact sheet. “Concurrent resolutions are not submitted to the president and thus do not have the force of law.”

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