Lawmakers Are Finally Voting To End a 15-Year-Old War Authorization Act
May 19, 2016 Matt Fuller / The Huffington Post & Manila Chan / RT America News
In yet another win for a growing coalition of lawmakers opposed to the continued use of a vast war authorization written in the days following 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress will go on the record regarding the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. The House Rules Committee advanced a measure to consider 181 amendments to the defense bill, including one proposal from Rep. Barbara Lee that would end the arguably unconstitutional 2001 war authorization.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee's Remarkable Post-9/11 Speech
Representative Barbara Lee explains her rationale for voting against the Authorization to Use Military Force in Afghanistan, citing the overly broad nature of the bill.
Lawmakers Are Finally Voting
To End a 15-Year-Old War Authorization Act Matt Fuller / The Huffington Post
WASHINGTON (May 18, 2016) -- It's one of the few bills in Congress that actually matters. And for House lawmakers looking to debate current conflict authorizations, war spending, LGBT rights, civil rights, Guantanamo Bay and many other parochial issues, the National Defense Authorization Act is a rare opportunity to legislate.
And this year, in yet another win for a growing coalition of lawmakers opposed to the continued use of a vast war authorization written in the days following 9/11 terrorist attacks, Congress will go on the record regarding the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
The House Rules Committee advanced a measure late Tuesday night that would set up consideration for 181 amendments to the defense bill, including one proposal from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) that would end the 2001 war authorization within 90 days of President Barack Obama signing the bill.
There are several AUMF-related amendments to the annual defense act, including a proposal from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) that would have repealed the current 2001 and 2002 war authorizations and replaced it with a three-year one. There is also an amendment from Rules Committee member Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) that would have prohibited funds for operations in Iraq or Syria after April 30, 2017, if Congress hadn't enacted a new AUMF.
However, the Lee proposal is the most straight-forward. It simply ends the 2001 authorization, leaving intact a separate 2002 authorization but offering no other alternative.
Many lawmakers have complained that the Obama administration is using the broad authority granted in that AUMF to conduct military operations in Iraq and Syria never foreseen 15 years ago. The Rules Committee ignored other war authorization amendments that may be more difficult for lawmakers to vote against, but Lee's proposal is a significant step forward for lawmakers looking for an AUMF vote.
The Lee amendment, which will get a vote on the House floor either Wednesday or Thursday, is only a small part of NDAA debate, though.
The annual defense bill -- a $602.2 billion authorization measure with sprawling jurisdiction over Pentagon programs, war activities, even some Department of Energy operations -- touches on several contentious issues.
In the rule advanced Tuesday night, lawmakers set up consideration of amendments that would place new limits on aid to Pakistan, protections for service members who are student loan borrowers, provisions preventing the retirement of the U-2 spy plane and even an amendment to ease restrictions placed on certain rocket systems.
The White House issued a 17-page veto threat for the legislation on Monday, arguing that the measure would inhibit the president's ability to carry out his defense strategy and seeks to work around defense spending caps by only funding some activities until May of 2017.
The veto threat has become as predictable as Congress passing the legislation, however. The Obama administration has issued one every year since 2011, and those threats have not interrupted the bill's 54-year streak of passage.
Lawmakers have already been working through NDAA amendments on the floor, with the House adopting a first rule that made 61 amendments in order earlier Tuesday. Most notably, that rule set up consideration for an amendment that would remove restrictions on transferring Guantanamo Bay detainees to U.S. prisons.
But the rule was even more notable for the debates it ducked.
All but one Republican -- retiring Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.)— voted for the rule Tuesday, which included provisions significantly changing the legislation without an amendment -- "self-executing language," in congressional parlance.
The change eliminated a controversial amendment adopted in committee that would have made women register for the draft. Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said on Tuesday that lawmakers cut that language in favor of studying the effect of mandating that women sign up for selective service because of complex House rules.
The Congressional Budget Office actually predicted that the original amendment would have saved taxpayers roughly $50 million over 10 years because some women who didn't register for the draft would therefore become ineligible for certain student loans.
Thornberry argued that, under current House rules, lawmakers would need to offset an amendment that was never intended to be adopted. The original author of the amendment -- Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) -- voted against the proposal and only offered it in committee to make a point.
That explanation didn't exactly sit well with Democrats who voted for the amendment in committee. Armed Services Ranking Democrat, Adam Smith of Washington, called the self-executing language "a dead-of-night attempt to take an important issue off the table."
But women signing up for selective service is hardly the only issue the annual defense bill avoids.
GOP leadership ignored an amendment from Republican Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania to remove a section of the bill that would block Obama's executive order requiring federal contractors to disclose civil rights violations.
Leadership also blocked an amendment to undo provisions obstructing Obama's action on LGBT job discrimination. Obama signed an executive action in 2014 making it illegal to fire or harass government contractors based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. An amendment in the Armed Services committee blocked that action from applying to federal contractors.
Also blocked was an amendment from a conservative and a coalition of progressives to allow the president to determine troop levels in Afghanistan.
Obama wants to maintain roughly 5,000 troops in Afghanistan, while Armed Service lawmakers put in language that the president should authorize at least 9,800 troops in that country.
"Congress shouldn't be telling military commanders how many troops they need," Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) told The Huffington Post in a statement. "It's not the way things are supposed to happen."
In a rare showing of bipartisanship, CPC members Ellison, Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), and California Congresswoman Lee joined with conservative Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) to offer an amendment that would simply strike that provision.
The Rules Committee did, however, make in order an amendment from progressives like Ellison and a lone conservative. Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) joined with some CPC members to author an amendment that would reduce the money authorized in the Overseas Contingency Fund.
As for the war authorization debate itself, there was some talk early in Paul Ryan's speakership that he wanted to vote on a new authorization, but that chatter has seemed to cool recently, as McGovern noted Tuesday night.
On the Senate side, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been consistent that he has little interest in the debate, and on Tuesday, he once again shot down talk of his chamber considering an authorization.
"Speaking only for myself, I can't imagine we could get 60 votes for an AUMF that I would be for," McConnell said. "Most of the people talking about an AUMF want to highly prescript how the war is conducted, not only for this president, but for the next president."
McConnell noted there would be a new president in less than a year, and that the current president believes he has that authority to conduct the ongoing military operations in the Middle East.
"I agree with that," McConnell said. "Therefore, I don't believe there's a need to deal with that issue now." Asked if he was comfortable with Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump having the broad war powers as they exist now, McConnell said he though he "pretty well answered the question."
Jennifer Bendery and Michael McAuliff contributed to this report.
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