House passes Obama’s Syria rebel aid, government spending

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Rebel fighters aim their weapons during clashes with government forces in the Syrian city of Aleppo, on July 21, 2014. Rebel fighters aim their weapons during clashes with government forces in the Syrian city of Aleppo, on July 21, 2014.
The U.S. House voted to train and equip Syrian rebels and temporarily finance the federal government in a bill that’s expected to clear the Senate and avoid a repeat of last year’s 16-day government shutdown.
In a 319-108 bipartisan vote, the Republican-led chamber passed the measure to finance the government through Dec. 11 after including an amendment to authorize help to Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State extremists.
The Senate will vote as soon as tomorrow on the measure, and Majority Leader Harry Reid has expressed confidence that the legislation will go to Obama for his signature.
The Syria measure, adopted 273-156, is a compromise between Republicans who wanted a debate over a broader war authorization and Democrats who worry it will draw the U.S. into a ground war similar to those in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I am not convinced this train-and-equip effort will change the balance of power on the ground any time soon,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. “And I believe this approach comes with great risks,” he said. Yet, “voting against this request would send a terrible message that America is unwilling to stand with those who are already fighting a common enemy.”
Obama, who supports the bill, forcefully reaffirmed today that he won’t send U.S. troops into combat in Iraq. Yesterday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey said he would recommend that U.S. advisers accompany Iraqi troops in battle to combat Islamic State if necessary.
Bipartisan support
The Syria amendment was backed by 159 Republicans and 114 Democrats, while 71 Republicans and 85 Democrats voted against it.
The spending bill had 176 Republican votes and 143 Democratic votes, while 53 Republicans and 55 Democrats opposed it.
The rare show of bipartisan support is unlikely to last past the Nov. 4 congressional election. Some Republicans are pressing for a vote then on a broader authorization to wage war similar to what was given to President George W. Bush before the 2003 Iraq invasion.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi supported the Syria-aid measure, saying it “has every check and balance” to limit U.S. aid to training and equipping Syrian rebels and “is not to be confused with any authorization to go further.”
Combat troops
“I don’t think the American people are up for” sending in U.S. combat troops, Pelosi of California told reporters.
“I don’t know if it would even achieve success,” she said. “Whatever it is, I’m against it.”
Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen, a member of Pelosi’s inner circle, voted against the proposal, saying it may “end up strengthening” Islamic State. Syrian rebels are focused on toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which would empower Islamic State, Van Hollen said.
Van Hollen said he supports Obama’s broader strategy of conducting air strikes in Iraq and Syria and backing Iraqi forces against Islamic State.
House Speaker John Boehner decided to hold two votes -- on the Syria aid amendment and the full government spending bill -- after some Republicans insisted that a separate vote on the Syria measure would send a stronger message to allies and terrorist groups.
Although some Senate Democrats sought a separate vote to register their opposition, Reid plans to keep the legislation as one package, according to a Democratic aide who sought anonymity to discuss the plans.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said he is confident it “will pass on a bipartisan basis” in the chamber.
Sunni extremists
Obama, in a Sept. 10 televised address, asked Congress to authorize help for Syrian rebels combating the Sunni extremist group Islamic State, which has swept from Syria deep into Iraq with a campaign of terror that included the beheading of two U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
Congressional leaders said they wanted to pass the measure this week so members can return home to campaign for the Nov. 4 election.
Republicans also want to avoid a rerun of last October’s partial government shutdown caused by a Republican effort to defund Obama’s health-care law. Public approval of Republicans plunged in polls after the shutdown.
The spending legislation, H.J.Res. 124, includes a nine-month reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, whose charter ends Sept. 30, the same day federal government funding is set to lapse.
Today’s amendment states that it doesn’t broadly authorize “the introduction of United States armed forces into hostilities,” a limit sought by lawmakers of both parties.
Another debate
Republicans including Boehner have said Obama isn’t doing enough to defeat Islamic militants and said they will push for another debate after the election.
“The plan does not fit the threat,” said Representative Steve Womack, an Arkansas Republican. Islamic State “has made the Middle East into a war zone and an advanced training ground for terrorists who, by their own admission, seek to do the U.S. harm,” he said. “President Obama has proposed we outsource the problem to other people.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the plan includes “targeted actions” against Islamic State positions, including “command and control, logistics capabilities and infrastructure.”
The House measure would require the Defense Department and State Department to report to Congress 15 days before putting its proposal into effect and demonstrate how it would work.
Every 90 days afterward, the Defense Department would have to provide information on vetting of Syrian rebels who receive help, in an effort to ensure that U.S. equipment doesn’t fall into terrorists’ hands.
The authority to equip and train Syrian rebels would continue until the government spending bill expires. Funds for equipping and training the Syrian rebels would come from Defense Department money contained in the measure.
The spending measure is H.J.Res. 124.

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