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House Rules Tees Up 135 Defense Authorization Amendments

Brooks wants Gallego's amendment removed from the bill. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The House Rules Committee on Wednesday night allowed for 135 amendments to be offered to the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill, including a proposal backed by conservative Republicans that would strip immigration language, and could be crucial to winning floor passage as the typically bipartisan legislation loses some high profile Democratic support.  

The panel approved in an 8-3 party-line vote a structured rule (H Res 260) for consideration of amendments to the bill (HR 1735), which will likely be debated Thursday on the House floor. General debate on the annual defense bill took place Wednesday, with no amendments considered.  

Among the amendments is a proposal by Alabama Republican Mo Brooks to strip a provision in the bill that encourages the secretary of Defense to consider allowing undocumented immigrants who are eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to enlist in the military. The provision won adoption as an amendment, offered by Arizona Democrat Ruben Gallego, during the House Armed Services Committee's marathon April 29 markup. And though it would not have the force of law, conservatives have warned that its inclusion could jeopardize the bill's prospects on the floor. Brooks, who is an Armed Services member, was one of only two lawmakers to vote against the bill in committee.  

Republicans cannot count on sizable numbers of Democrats to support the legislation this year. Dyspeptic at the addition of tens of billions of dollars to the Overseas Contingency Operations account to sidestep budget caps for defense, Democrats have largely voted against measures they say will lock in sequestration. Opponents of the legislation include Armed Services ranking Democrat Adam Smith, and should more Democrats join him, the GOP can ill afford defections in their own ranks.  

The panel also left out of its rule an amendment from California Republican Jeff Denham, commonly known as the ENLIST Act, which would allow military enlistment and provide legal resident status for certain illegal immigrants who serve in an active component of the military.  

Dueling Detainee Proposals The committee also made in order competing Democratic and Republican amendments to the bill's Guantanamo Bay provisions, which as written would prevent detainee transfers to the United States and combat zones as well as put new certification requirements in place before prisoners can be moved.  

One amendment, from Smith, would set up a process to close the prison by the end of 2017 and permit the transfer of detainees to the United States. A competing proposal, sponsored by Indiana Republican Jackie Walorski, would extend the bill's limitations to two years in duration, exceeding the fiscal 2016 period covered by the bill. Walorski's amendment also would bar transfers to Yemen as well as the use of the Defense secretary's national security waiver authority to transfer prisoners to combat zones.  

Seapower While Armed Services has in recent years rejected a number of Navy proposals for cost savings, including foregoing a mid-life nuclear refueling for the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and taking half its Ticonderoga class cruiser fleet out of service, the Rules Committee made multiple amendments in order on the topic.  

The rule includes an amendment offered by Colorado Democrat Jared Polis, which would reduce the statutory requirement for the number of operational aircraft carriers the Navy must maintain from 11 to 10. Another proposal from Polis, with Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, would require funding for the Navy's Ohio class replacement submarine to come from traditional Navy budget accounts, instead of the Sea-Based Deterrent Fund.  

End Strengths and Force Structure The rule would make in order a proposal from Steven M. Palazzo, R-Miss., that would push back—from March 31, 2016 to June 30, 2016—the limitation on the transfer of AH-64 Apache helicopters from the Army National Guard to the active component Army. The amendment is also sponsored by Minnesota Democrat Tim Walz and Pennsylvania Republican Kieth Rothfus.  

Another amendment made in order would require the Defense secretary to report to Congress and certify that an active duty Army end strength below 490,000 soldiers would be adequate to meet the U.S.'s national security strategy. The proposal is sponsored by Republicans John Fleming of Louisiana, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Elise Stefanik of New York and Doug Lamborn of Colorado.  

The Rule In teeing up the defense policy measure, the committee disposed of 354 amendments filed for consideration, which Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said is a record number filed for the annual authorization measure ahead of floor action.  

The rule allows no additional general debate, which expired Wednesday evening. It also waives all points of order against the amendments made in order and allows the chairman of the Armed Services Committee to offer amendments en bloc, which can be debated for 20 minutes per amendment package. It also provides one motion to recommit the bill, with or without instructions.  

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