House poised to vote on hundreds of amendments to defense bill

Provisions directing oversight of the Afghanistan war top the list

U.S. servicemembers assist with the evacuation from Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 22. (Sgt. Isaiah Campbell / U.S. Marine Corps via Getty Images)
U.S. servicemembers assist with the evacuation from Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 22. (Sgt. Isaiah Campbell / U.S. Marine Corps via Getty Images)
Posted September 21, 2021 at 6:49pm

When the House debates its defense authorization bill starting Tuesday night, it plans to consider 476 amendments on everything from the proper level of U.S. defense spending to how best to handle the Afghanistan war's fallout.

The House will consider, and probably reject, proposals to cut the amount of spending authorized in the bill. 

But other votes, in some cases closer ones, will take place on amendments to streamline the processing of Afghan refugees, to tighten restrictions on top Pentagon officials who become lobbyists and to impose U.S. government sanctions on those who harm or kill journalists. 

The list of amendments appears to be shorn of most if not all GOP proposals that had been filed with the Rules Committee to try to overturn federal vaccine mandates, to block diversity training in the military and to remove a provision in the bill requiring women to sign up with the Selective Service for a potential future military draft.

But there are still plenty of other issues for the House to wade through.

Topline

Democrat Barbara Lee of California has an amendment that would reduce the amount of defense spending the bill would authorize in fiscal 2022 to the level proposed by President Joe Biden — a reduction of about $25 billion. 

As it now stands, the authorization bill and other House authorization measures would endorse about $778 billion for defense programs in the Pentagon and other departments and agencies — money that must still be appropriated in separate legislation. The Senate is poised to authorize the same amount.

Likewise, an amendment from Mark Pocan, D-Wis., would reduce the overall authorization level by 10 percent, excluding personnel and health care accounts.

Similar amendments have failed in the recent past, and there is no sign that the balance of power on this issue has shifted.

Another category of amendments of potential interest to top officials in the Pentagon and defense industry affects lobbying by former top Defense Department officials. 

One such proposal, by California Democrat Jackie Speier and others, would extend — from one year to two years — the so-called cooling-off period for former senior executive branch officials before they can lobby their previous agency. 

Another amendment by Speier and others would require defense contractors to formally represent to the Pentagon that their employees comply with rules restricting lobbying by former officials.

Afghanistan refugees

Congress is intent on helping Afghans who want to leave their country find a haven and to assist those who have already managed to get out.

The House will consider amendments to achieve those aims, including proposals by:

  • Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin to require the State Department to produce a plan to safely process the refugees.
  • Speier, to improve the process of evacuations, particularly for Afghan women and defenders of human rights.
  • Lou Correa, D-Calif., to establish an Afghan Refugee Special Envoy position.
  • Kathy Manning D-N.C., and Katie Porter, D-Calif., to require the Defense Department to appoint an official to serve as point person with the State Department on efforts to evacuate additional Americans and Afghan partners from Afghanistan.
  • Mark E. Green, R-Tenn., to mandate the State Department report to Congress the number of American citizens evacuated from Hamid Karzai International Airport during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Post-war cleanup

The House Armed Services Committee report accompanying its bill included a bevy of requirements for Pentagon reports, as lawmakers hope more information will help them learn the right lessons from the war and, looking forward, better monitor the Afghanistan withdrawal's repercussions.

If certain amendments are adopted this week on the floor, those reporting requirements and other mandates will only grow. 

Some of the Afghanistan-related amendments that do not pertain to refugees include proposals by:

  • Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., to mandate that the final report from the Commission on Afghanistan required in the underlying bill include an assessment of the war’s harm to civilians and human rights violations.
  • Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., to require the Pentagon to attempt to recover any aircraft furnished by the U.S. to the Afghan security forces that have since been removed from Afghanistan.
  • James R. Comer, R-Ky., to require the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to report on the status of military equipment that the U.S. provided to Afghanistan and on whether Afghan government officials took American taxpayer funds or equipment when fleeing the country.
  • Carol Miller, R-W.Va., Bill Posey, R-Fla., Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Beth Van Duyne, R-Texas, to block any U.S. funding for military cooperation or intelligence sharing with the Taliban.

Protecting journalists 

The House will consider a proposal by Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., that would require the imposition of U.S. sanctions on people or governments implicated in gross violations of journalists’ human rights. 

Moreover, at least three other amendments are reactions to the 2018 murder in Turkey of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who worked for The Washington Post. U.S. intelligence services have concluded that the killing was sanctioned by the Saudi ruler, Mohammed bin Salman. 

On tap this week are attempts to realize consequences for that murder in the form of amendments by:

  • Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., to impose temporary limits on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and to require various reports related to the death of Khashoggi.
  • Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., to impose sanctions on foreign persons listed in the report of the Director of National Intelligence on the murder.
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Connolly, Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., to ban any U.S. funding to equip, train or supply weapons or military aid to Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force, the unit believed to have been responsible for Khashoggi’s killing. 

Among the amendments permitted by Rules to be considered on the floor is one by Christopher H. Smith, R-N.J., that would require a Government Accountability Office report on whether since-terminated Pentagon experiments on disease-carrying insects ended up releasing them into the wild.

The fiscal 2020 and 2021 House authorization bills included similar Smith provisions on this issue, but neither of the earlier bills was enacted with his language intact. 

Mark Satter and Andrew Clevenger contributed.