This was a vote on a motion to suspend the rules and pass legislation authorizing $725 billion to be spent on Defense Department programs in 2011 (this legislation was known as the “Defense Authorization bill”), including $159 billion for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Motions to suspend the rules limit time allowed for debate, and prohibit members from offering amendments. A two-thirds majority vote is required to approve the motion and pass a bill, rather than the usual majority.
This bill reflected a compromise between the House and the Senate. The House had passed its Defense Authorization bill seven months earlier. The Senate, however, never passed its own version. While all but six Republicans present voted in favor of this compromise bill, none praised the measure during debate on the House floor. Indeed, Republican members indicated they would vote for the bill reluctantly, because they believed its passage was critical to the safety of U.S. troops. They argued that it was highly inappropriate to consider such a major piece of legislation under suspension of the rules, which limits debate and prohibits members from offering amendments. They also argued that this compromise bill was inferior to the one passed by the House seven months earlier, which among other things, included a bigger pay raise for U.S. troops.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) echoed the sentiments of many Republicans: “We stand here today 7 months after the House passed its version of the 2011 defense authorization bill because the leadership of the other body [the Senate] dithered instead of doing the right thing for all members of our armed services. As a result, the Senate has not passed its version of the defense authorization. Then in a last minute rush to get a defense bill, any defense bill, we stand on the floor today to debate for 40 minutes under suspension of the rules a 900-page bill…that is a stripped down, weakened version of what the House enacted in May. We may hear some good things about the bill, but let me remind members that this rush to have a bill has cost the men and women in uniform. This bill is stripping out key House provisions in the name of expediency….Despite the omissions in the bill, I will reluctantly urge members to support the bill.”
A majority of Democrats also backed the Defense bill. Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) urged support for the bill, arguing its passage was vital to the well-being of American troops overseas: “Most of you, like me, have spent time with our troops overseas. Their dedication, their courage, their devotion never cease to amaze me. Their service and sacrifice is matched only by that of their families who bear the same burden. Their sacrifice is, at times, almost unbearable. Yet they do it, and not for us but for the American people. However, we bear the awesome burden of repaying their sacrifice.”
A number of Democrats, however, voted against the measure. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) argued: “…We have the largest defense budget in the world. We cannot continue to spend as much on defense as the next 16 countries combined. We cannot continue to spend billions to protect West Germany from the Soviet Union when both ceased to exist 2 decades ago. Such policies are not fair to our military or to the taxpayer. While nothing is more important than providing the resources needed to keep our men and women in uniform safe, the bill is too rooted in the past and the unfortunate present operation in Afghanistan, which I've opposed for scaling up, when we should have been scaling down so that we can refine and refocus on programs that will make our country safer and more secure.”
The House agreed to the motion to suspend the rules and pass this bill by a vote of 341-48. Voting “yea” were 187 Democrats and 154 Republicans. 42 Democrats – including a majority of progressives – and 6 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the House passed legislation authorizing $725 billion to be spent on Defense Department programs in 2011, including $159 billion for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.