House Republicans Weigh Adding Syria Provision to Spendin

Efforts in Congress to quickly pass spending legislation to avoid a government shutdown are on hold as House Republicans weigh whether to add language authorizing U.S. troops to train and equip Syrian rebels.

President Barack Obama’s last-minute request on Syria has delayed a vote on a federal spending bill initially planned for today. Instead, House Republicans plan a closed-door meeting to ponder the issue as Senate Democrats prepare a fallback plan to authorize aid to the rebels.

Lawmakers “stand ready to listen and work with the president” on the Syria request, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said yesterday.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden made calls to House members yesterday urging them to include the train-and-equip language in the government funding bill, said an administration official with knowledge of the situation. The president is preparing to expand a U.S. offensive against Islamic State extremists, including targeting the group’s havens inside Syria.

House Speaker John Boehner told reporters that he spoke with Obama yesterday about the matter, though he gave no details about the conversation.

The spending legislation would fund the federal government through Dec. 11 and renew the Export-Import Bank’s charter through June 30. Government funding expires Sept. 30 with the fiscal year, as does the Ex-Im’s charter.

House Republican leaders have been attempting to protect the spending bill from partisan amendments to avoid a repeat of last October’s 17-day partial government shutdown.

Shutdown Backfire

Last year Republicans tried to use government funding as leverage to curtail the 2010 health-care law, a tactic that backfired as the shutdown caused the party’s public approval ratings to sink. Republicans’ favorability rating fell to a record-low 28 percent, according to a Gallup poll, dropping 10 percentage points in one month.

Now, winning passage of the spending measure, H.J. Res. 124, is the latest test for Boehner and his new Republican leadership team as they try to appease their members’ business and small-government factions.

McCarthy told reporters that “everybody should be given time” to consider the president’s request. A House Republican leadership aide, who sought anonymity to discuss the plans, said the spending-bill vote probably will be put off until next week.

Obama is seeking $500 million for the Syria effort. The House measure includes a spending rate of $85 billion and the president would have the money, though he would need the authorizing language.

‘Little Late’

Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, told reporters that Obama called him at about 5 p.m. Washington time on Sept. 9 asking that the Syria provision be included in the stopgap funding measure. Rogers said he told Obama that “it’s a little late” for that.

Rogers said the request was too complicated to shoehorn into the government funding plan.

Top congressional Democrats, meanwhile, are demanding that the Syrian rebel provision be included in the spending bill.

“I want it to be on whatever engine is leaving the station and that is one that is leaving the station for sure,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat. “I would hope that it would be on there.”

Senate Democrats are preparing a separate train-and-equip measure as a backup to be used if the House spending bill doesn’t include the Syria provision, said a Senate Democratic aide who sought anonymity.

Reid’s Support

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, also backed training for the Syrian rebels.

“It’s clear to me that we need to train and equip Syrian rebels and other groups in the Middle East that need some help,” Reid said yesterday on the Senate floor. “That’s one way of helping to build an international coalition.”

The president made a televised speech to the nation late yesterday to lay out his strategy to battle the Islamic State, which has captured swaths of Syria and Iraq.

Before the speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said a strategy must be “designed to succeed; not a mere restatement of current policy, which we know is insufficient to the task.”

Prior to Obama’s push for Syria aid authorization, the Export-Import bank extension had been the primary sticking point in devising a spending bill.

The Ex-Im bank provides loan guarantees, loans and insurance to help foreign companies buy U.S. goods.

Opposing Ex-Im

Some House Republicans including House Financial Services Chairman Jeb Hensarling, backed by small-government groups including the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, have said they want to abolish the bank. They say it benefits large corporations that don’t need the support.

Still, Hensarling said in a speech in Washington yesterday that he supports the proposed nine-month extension of the bank’s charter, which he said would give lawmakers “an opportunity to debate” the bank’s future.

Without a reauthorization, the agency wouldn’t be able to make new loans though it still could manage existing loans and contracts. The legislation doesn’t provide funding for the bank.

“Business owners need some certainty to make plans,”bank president Fred Hochberg said yesterday at a Bloomberg Government lunch in Washington. “If they are going to be hiring people, buying equipment, thinking about making overseas sales they need some degree of certainty.”

A five-year renewal of the bank’s charter would provide that certainty, Hochberg said.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a leader of the small-government Tea Party faction of Republicans who helped spearhead last year's shutdown, is pressing for the stopgap measure to extend into 2015.

``House and Senate Republicans should both insist on this basic principle,'' Cruz said in a statement.

Cruz and Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee wrote to Reid yesterday pledging to do what they could to block any significant, non-emergency legislation in a post-election, lame-duck session.

The stopgap funding measure also includes $88 million that Obama requested to help fight the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. U.S. and British officials said Sept. 8 they were sending troops and equipment to the region to help combat the disease.

In addition the measure would extend, until Dec. 11, the Internet Tax Freedom Act, a law passed by Congress in 1998 that prohibits taxing access to the Internet.

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