Policy

House Set to Debate Gitmo, AUMF in Defense Spending Measure

White House has concerns with the use of war funds

New Jersey Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen characterized the House fiscal 2017 defense spending bill as "highly responsible." (Bill Clark/Roll Call file photo)

The House began debate late Tuesday on the fiscal 2017 defense spending bill, lining up amendment consideration for the $575.8 billion measure on Wednesday under a veto threat from the White House.    

The House Rules Committee made 75 amendments in order for floor consideration of the bill (HR 5293 ), but rejected two dealing with the rights of LGBT people, two days after an LGBT nightclub in Orlando became the setting for the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.  

But the panel did tee up for floor debate several amendments related to the military’s detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They include a Democratic provision that would strip restrictions in the bill on the closure of Guantánamo and the transfer of detainees held there, as well as Republican language that would bar funding for the office of the Pentagon’s special envoy for the detention facility's closure.  

Despite reluctance among many lawmakers to pursue an authorization for use of military force for operations against the Islamic State, the House will consider a bipartisan amendment to bar the use of funds for combat operations in Iraq and Syria until Congress approves an AUMF.  

Several amendments ruled in order touch on military hardware, including an one that would appropriate $80 million for the effort to replace UH-1N helicopters currently used to protect missile fields.  

Also on tap for floor debate is an amendment from Republican Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina that would prohibit those war accounts from being used for anything other than contingency operations. But language from Democrat Keith Ellison of Minnesota that would redirect $7.3 billion in base budget procurement contained in the war funds to pay for actual operational need did not make the cut.  

The typically bipartisan bill has drawn fire from Democrats for its reliance on Overseas Contingency Operations funding to pay for $15.7 billion in ships, aircraft, soldiers and other base-budget items not requested by President Barack Obama but favored by the military services.  

Indeed, the bill stipulates that money for operations overseas must be spent by April 30, 2017, forcing the next president to request a supplemental spending bill to pay for the wars early in his or her first term.  

The White House Statement of Administration Policy on the bill cites a number of concerns, with the use of war funds perhaps at the forefront.  

“By gambling with warfighting funds, the bill risks the safety of our men and women fighting to keep America safe, undercuts stable planning and efficient use of taxpayer dollars, dispirits troops and their families, baffles our allies, and emboldens our enemies,” according to the Obama administration statement.  

House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen immediately took issue with the administration’s characterization of the use of war funds, arguing that it would fund urgent priorities while allowing the next president to submit a supplemental based on his or her own warfighting priorities.  

“The bill before you does not gamble. It is highly responsible,“ Frelinghuysen said on the floor.

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