House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard McKeon, R-Calif., right, talks with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, left, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, on Capitol Hill Sept. 10. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)
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WASHINGTON — The US House on Wednesday will begin work on nearly 170 amendments to a Pentagon policy bill, including ones that would add funds to weapons accounts, require arms sales to allies, and kill the measure that authorized America’s post-9/11 conflicts.
The House Rules Committee late Tuesday evening cleared 169 amendments for floor action, granting each 10 minutes of debate. The chamber will begin work on that list on Wednesday, and is expected to finish work on its 2015 national defense authorization act (NDAA) on Thursday.
The approved amendments span the national security and foreign policy spectrum, featuring rather mundane mandates and others that would have serious ramifications.
One that fits the latter billing is being pushed by a pair of California Democrats. Reps. Adam Schiff and John Garamendi. The amendment would sunset the post-9/11 authorization of the use of military force (AUMF) one year after the final version of the NDAA is signed into law, should it pass and Senate leaders agree to include it in the final measure.
Lawmakers in both parties have talked in recent years about rescinding the AUMF or updating it, especially as al-Qaida has been weakened in Pakistan and Afghanistan but gained strength elsewhere.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters last year he doubted AUMF reform efforts would go anywhere because the White House opposes altering the measure. But some legal scholars say the Obama administration may push for changes near the end of Barack Obama’s second term, which ends in January 2017.
Another amendment, offered by Rep. John Mulvaney, R-S.C., and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., aims to “codifies criteria developed by [the White House Office of Management and Budget] in 2010 to clarify when military spending should be designated as contingency operations and properly be part of the Overseas Contingency Operation budget,” according to a Rules Committee summary.
Members of both parties are increasingly skeptical of the Pentagon and White House budget practice of using that war fund to pay for things lawmakers and analysts contend are not directly related to America’s post-9/11 wars.
Another bipartisan amendment would require the president to sell Lockheed Martin-made F-16 C/D fighter aircraft “to Taiwan to modernize its air fleet, 70 percent of which is scheduled to be retired within the next decade.”
Another weapons system-focused amendment, offered by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would clear Air Force officials to “to procure not more than 10 [active electronically scanned array (AESA)] radar upgrades for the Air National Guard F-15C/D aircraft.” A Rules Committee summary states his amendment would take the necessary funding amount for those jets from nine other federal budget accounts.
Another, from Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., adds $99 million for the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense program. Notably, Raytheon late last year wrestled a major Aegis contract from Lockheed; Raytheon has a big presence in Trent’s Arizona. But House Armed Services Committee GOP spokesman Claude Chafin told Defense News on Wednesday morning that the panel determined the amendment is not an earmark "for a whole host of reasons." The House has banned earmarks.
Chafin said the Franks amendment would replace nine of 100 Standard Missiles previously cut by the Obama administration due exclusively to budgetary constraints. "This would not benefit his district," Chafin said. "This is purely a policy move."
One more industry friendly amendment, introduced by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., requests that US plans through 2018 for Afghanistan describe opportunities for American firms to score contracts to equip Afghan security forces.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., will push a measure that would prohibit the establishment of permanent US military bases on Afghan soil.
Several floor amendments are aimed at getting tougher on Russia after its invasion, occupation and contested annexation of Crimea in southern Ukraine. One was offered by HASC Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio. It would limit the “availability of funds for removal or consolidation of dual-capable aircraft from Europe.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., has two amendments clamping down on the use of US dollars for certain joint projects with Moscow. House Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., is offering another, which would establish “a U.S. policy of opposing transfers of ‘defense articles and services’ ... to Russia by any NATO member country, during any period when Russia occupies the territory of Ukraine or a NATO member country.”
Some amendments will lead to more fiery debate on the floor than others.
Garamendi and Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., will push one that states “nothing in the  NDAA shall be construed as authorizing the use of force against Syria or Iran.”
And Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, has an amendment that would require Pentagon brass to “provide for the conduct of an independent assessment of U.S. efforts to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaeda, including its affiliates groups, associated groups, and adherents since May 2, 2011.”
The amendment uses the phrasing often employed by senior Obama administration officials to describe what the US has done to “core al-Qaida” in Pakistan and Afghanistan since they took office in January 2009. Republicans vigorously disagree disagree that the violent Islamic extremist organization has been significantly weakened.
But fireworks could fly over Rep. Duncan Hunter’s measure related to the deadly September 2012 attack on a US consulate facility in Benghazi, Libya.
Part of the California Republican’s amendment appears non-controversial. That section would express the sense of lawmakers that “the persons and organizations who carried out the attacks on the United States personnel in Benghazi ... continue to pose a security threat to the United States and uncertainty regarding the authority of the president to use force to this end undermines his position as commander-in-chief,” according to a Rules summary.
That section likely would have ample support to pass if it were a stand-alone measure. After all, since 9/11 the legislative branch has mostly left it to the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations to carry out America’s war on violent Islamic groups.
But the White House has failed to assuage congressional Republicans’ concerns about what happened before, during and after that 2012 attack -- and the GOP senses it can use the issue in the November midterm election cycle and the 2016 presidential race. The White House contends it has disclosed ample non-classified data to satisfy GOP inquires, and accuses Republicans of politicizing the deaths of four Americans at Benghazi.
With 233 seats in the House, Hunter and other Republicans likely can pass his Benghazi amendment. But another portion might be rejected by Senate Democrats, which control the chamber and the Armed Services Committee -- and any differences in the chambers’ NDAAs would be hammered out by a bicameral conference committee later this year.
Hunter’s measure also would require the president to “submit a report including the identity and location of those who were involved in the attack, actions that have been taken to kill or capture them,” according to a Rules summary, “and [a] determination regarding whether the president has the authority to use force against the perpetrators.”