* Republican leaders oppose curbs on NSA data collection
* $598 billion sought for defense in fiscal 2014
* White House threatens veto
By David Alexander
WASHINGTON, July 23 U.S. lawmakers clashed over
Syria, Afghanistan and government spying on Tuesday as the House
of Representatives began debating a $598 billion defense
spending bill for 2014, including a Pentagon base budget of $512
billion and $86 billion for the Afghan war.
The confrontations began even before the measure made it to
the floor of the House after Republican leaders moved to
restrict the number of permitted amendments to 100, with no more
than 20 minutes of debate on divisive issues like Syria policy
and spying by the National Security Agency.
A final vote on the bill, which includes about $3 billion
more than requested by President Barack Obama, is not expected
until Wednesday at the earliest. Debate on the thorniest
amendments, including on Syria, funding for Egypt and NSA
spying, was not likely to begin until Wednesday.
The White House has threatened a presidential veto of the
overall bill unless it is part of a broader budget that supports
U.S. economic recovery efforts, saying current House proposals
cut too much from education, infrastructure and innovation.
The White House joined senior House Republicans in urging
lawmakers to oppose an amendment by Michigan Republican Justin
Amash, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, that
would bar the NSA from collecting telephone call records and
other data from people in the United States not specifically
The proposed amendment comes after former NSA contractor
Edward Snowden leaked details of an agency surveillance program
that collects and stores vast amounts of electronic
communications like phone call records and emails.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama welcomed a
debate on safeguarding privacy, but opposed Amash's amendment,
saying it would "hastily dismantle one of our intelligence
community's counterterrorism tools."
Senior House Republicans, including Intelligence Committee
Chairman Mike Rogers and Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck
McKeon, circulated a letter to colleagues urging them to oppose
"While many members have legitimate questions about the NSA
metadata program, including whether there are sufficient
protections for Americans' civil liberties, eliminating this
program altogether without careful deliberation would not
reflect our duty ... to provide for the common defense," they
As debate got under way, lawmakers expressed concern over
the constraints placed on their ability to discuss contentious
Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat,
accused Republican leaders of ignoring the "real split" in
Congress over the Syrian civil war and denying "any real
substantive debate" over whether the United States should
intervene in a conflict that has already killed 100,000.
U.S. involvement in Syria so far has been limited to
providing humanitarian assistance to refugees and non-lethal aid
to the Syrian opposition. But Obama is moving ahead with lethal
aid after determining the government of President Bashar
al-Assad has sometimes used chemical weapons.
"The Republican leadership ducked a real important debate
when it comes to Syria," McGovern said. "I hope that ... a few
years down the road we don't look back ... and express regret
that somehow we got sucked into this war without a real debate."
Lawmakers also strongly condemned the Afghan government for
trying to charge the U.S. military customs duties to remove
American equipment from the country.
They debated a series of amendments aimed at stripping
funding from military programs for the Afghans. The bill sets
Afghan war funding at $86 billion.