With little argument, the House of Representatives approved measures Wednesday that would prevent the Obama administration from spending money on U.S. military operations in Syria without consulting Congress and would forbid funding U.S. military or paramilitary operations in Egypt.
The measures, part of the House’s $598 billion defense bill, were supposed to be contentious issues exposing bipartisan rifts between interventionists who want to give Obama a free hand in dealing with the civil war in Syria and unrest in Egypt and war-weary lawmakers concerned that U.S. troops will be dragged into more military actions.
But both amendments were approved on voice votes with only scant dissent.
On Syria, lawmakers passed an amendment by Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., that would forbid any military action in Syria if it violates the War Powers Resolution – which requires the president to consult Congress before committing U.S. forces to battle or placing them in situations where hostilities are imminent.
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The Radel amendment does not address the contentious issue of providing weapons to the Syrian rebels, whose campaign to topple President Bashar Assad is made up of as many as 1,200 largely independent groups, including some that are openly affiliated with al Qaida. Congressional intelligence committees recently signed off on an Obama administration proposal to have the CIA funnel unspecified arms and training to rebels aligned with the moderate Supreme Military Council, led by a defected Syrian general, Salim Idriss.
But the wording of the amendment would apply to setting up a no-fly zone or using U.S. ships to launch attacks on sites in Syria, and the debate showed that deeper military involvement in Syria is opposed by an unusual House coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats.
“I believe without a shadow of a doubt this is one of the most insane policies that borders on madness – the United States to give funding, training and arms most likely to al Qaida in Syria doesn’t make any sense,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. “This is absolute madness.”
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., agreed, calling the situation in Syria “chaotic.”
“Distinguishing between the good rebels and the bad rebels is impossible,” Welch said on the House floor. “The notion that we can have a micromanaged approach and pick the good guys, and arm them, and not have any reasonable . . . expectation that the arms will get into bad hands I think is naive.”
Welch added that Congress has the responsibility to weigh in before U.S. troops are sent into harm’s way.
“We have a job to do under the Constitution,” he said.
The Obama administration last month notified Congress under the War Powers Resolution that a detachment of 700 U.S. troops who’d been participating in war games in Jordan would remain in that country “until the security situation becomes such that it is no longer needed.” The detachment includes Patriot anti-missile systems and fighter aircraft, the White House notification said.
The Egypt amendment by Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., would prohibit the Department of Defense from using money authorized in the defense bill to fund military operations in Egypt or to fund individuals, groups or organizations engaged in paramilitary activity.
“Since our national security interests in Syria and Egypt are unclear, we risk giving money and military assistance to our enemies,” Massie said when he introduced his measure last week. “The Constitution prohibits the president from unilaterally spending American taxpayer dollars on military operations without congressional approval.”
The Egypt vote occurred as the Obama administration suspended delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt this week. A Pentagon spokesman said that the United States values its relationship with Egypt but that the delay was necessary as Egypt remains divided over the military’s removal from office of Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected president.
Pentagon spokesman George Little told reporters Wednesday that the United States no longer believes it is “appropriate to move forward with the delivery.”
At the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki used nearly the exact same wording to explain the decision. “Given the current situation in Egypt, we do not believe it is appropriate to move forward with the delivery of the F-16s at this time,” she said.