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U.S. Senate Approves $1 Trillion spending plan and Aid To Syrian Rebels

via White House video stream

(Updated 5:37 P.M. Thr., Sept. 18)

The Senate voted Thursday to approve a $1 trillion stop-gap spending plan to keep the federal government operating until December 11.  The measure also contains the authorization for the Pentagon to train and equip Syrian Rebels in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS.  The measure was approved on a 78-22 vote and now goes to the President.  

Read our earlier story below:

In September 2001, with smoke still rising from the rubble of World Trade Center in New York, and crews working through the collapsed floors of the Pentagon, lawmakers on Capitol Hill passed a resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to use military force:

“That the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or person.” 

Thirteen years later, President Barack Obama is relying on that same authorization to take military action against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.  While few lawmakers question the president’s use of that authority, a growing number of lawmakers, including members of the local delegation, are asking whether Congress should consider passing a new authorization to address current and future threats.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., says it is time to retire the current authorization "and to draft a new one that would be more specific to the events of today." That's something she says will likely take place in the "lame duck" session after the mid-term elections in November.  She says the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the ranking Republican on the panel are already working on language.  

The morning after the president's speech last week, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a long-time supporter of the president, said Congress needed to discuss the issue.  “If this just isn’t a temporary response to a threat to American citizens or American territory or vital American interests, and it’s going to go on for any period of time, I think we have a constitutional responsibility to debate it, to vote on it on behalf of the American people.”

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, says that while he agrees that the president has the authority to act against ISIL, he also says “this vital counter-terrorism effort deserves broad, bipartisan support.  I would support a new authorization if the majority schedules a vote.”

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters that it was up to the president to present any language for a new authorization to use military force first.  

While not questioning the president’s authority to take military action, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said in a statement issued after last week’s speech that the president would have benefited from asking Congress to “reaffirm that authority.”  Blunt also said the president should have presented Congress with a more specific plan, a theme echoed by some lawmakers in both parties who question whether the president’s plan can succeed. 

Asked whether Congress was being left out of the process because the president wasn’t specifically asking for a re-authorization to use military force, U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, said “he has the authorization.”  But Wagner also noted that “the president has asked for something a little different, and this has to do with training and equipping moderate Syrians… and that needs some level of authorization.”

A different authorization     

While the president is not asking Congress for the authority to use force against ISIS, he is asking for authorization to train and equip what the White House is calling “moderate” Syrian rebels. 

Before the Pentagon can begin training and arming forces other than current members of the U.S. military, it needs authorization from Congress.  As part of the same request, the president is also asking for an additional $500 million for the Pentagon to carry out this objective.  The president actually made his initial request earlier this year when ISIS was quickly seizing territory in Iraq and Syria.

Over the last two weeks, the White House has been pushing members of Congress to approve both the Title X authorization for the Pentagon and the additional funding for Syrian rebels, but House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are expressing hesitation. House Republicans have crafted an amendment to the so-called Continuing Resolution, or CR, the stopgap funding measure necessary to keep the federal government operating past the end of the month. 

While the amendment does authorize the training and equipping of “vetted” elements of the Syrian opposition, it also imposes several other requirements that House Republicans call “oversight.”  The amendment also does not include the additional funds requested by the president, but it does allow the U.S. to receive money from other countries.

Other provisions in the amendment require the president to tell Congress how the assistance fits into his regional strategy and the Pentagon would be required to submit a report to Congress at least 15 days before providing assistance to the Syrian rebels and then to submit progress reports every 90 days thereafter.

The authorization contained in the amendment would last only until the Continuing Resolution expires or Congress approves the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act, whichever one occurs first.