US lawmakers to debate tailored Syria action bill Tuesday

Republican leaders will seek to convince lawmakers Tuesday to authorize the Pentagon to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to fight extremists, while also putting checks on President Barack Obama`s use-of-force powers.

AFP| Updated: Sep 16, 2014, 08:52 AM IST

Washington: Republican leaders will seek to convince lawmakers Tuesday to authorize the Pentagon to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels to fight extremists, while also putting checks on President Barack Obama`s use-of-force powers.

The plan will be debated in the House of Representatives and in a closed-door Republican meeting early Tuesday, when party leaders will sell the legislation to their rank-and-file members as a crucial step against the so-called Islamic State (IS), but also one that restricts the White House`s authority.

The amendment is attached to a stop-gap measure funding federal operations through December 11. That bill must pass Congress before fiscal year 2015 begins October 1, or the government faces a shutdown.

Lawmakers are set to leave Washington later this week and not return until after the November 4 congressional elections, leaving limited time to pass the measure. A vote is expected Wednesday.

With the White House pressing Congress to act, Republicans and some skeptical Democrats are loathe to give Obama blanket authority to take anti-IS action in Syria, and so the amendment introduced by House Armed Services Committee chairman Buck McKeon imposes restrictions on the president.

It requires the administration to keep Congress in the loop, through reports to lawmakers every 90 days, and says the Pentagon must give 15 days notice before any rebel training is provided.

It only authorizes action through mid-December and prohibits Obama from dispatching US combat troops.

Congressional leaders from both parties back his request for swift approval, arguing the authorization is key to a forceful response against the extremist group that has beheaded Americans and marauded across parts of Iraq and Syria.

"This is a critical issue, and I believe it`s in our national security interest for the Congress to act quickly to provide this authority," House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers said.

The Rules Committee announced late Monday that lawmakers will have six hours to debate the Syria measure.

"I think you`ll find an amendment that will get a large majority," congressman Peter King told AFP, but he acknowledged Republicans had reservations about giving Obama broad war authority.

"The office of president should have much more leeway when it comes to using military power," King said.

"So if (imposing limits) is what it takes to get a large bipartisan vote out of the Congress, let`s do it, because... the important thing is to send a message to the world that we`re united."

Doubts persisted within conservative ranks.

"Spoke with many conservative colleagues tonight. Almost universal opposition to this amendment to arm Syrian rebels," congressman Justin Amash posted on Twitter.

But Nita Lowey, ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, warned of any delays in confronting IS head on.

"While the political terrain in the region is complicated and ever-evolving, there is no silver bullet, and failure to act now is not an option," she said.