In defense of extraneous amendments

IN DEFENSE OF EXTRANEOUS AMENDMENTS…. When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) explains why he’s trying to kill the bill that funds the military, he says it’s necessary to prevent measures that aren’t germane to defense spending.

Noting, for example, that the bill includes a repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and may ultimately include the Dream Act, McCain says the problem has nothing to do with his animosity towards gays and immigrants. Rather, McCain says it’s “reprehensible” to “use the defense bill … to pursue a social agenda.”

At first blush, this might seem half-way reasonable. Putting aside the fact that troop eligibility has quite a bit to do with the Pentagon, it does seem awkward to add extraneous provisions to spending bills that deal with unrelated subjects. Last year, for example, Democrats added the Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the defense authorization bill, though hate crimes and military spending don’t seem related.

But here’s the detail McCain and his cohorts hope you won’t notice: this is actually pretty common, and just the way the Senate operates. More to the point, this is the way McCain and other Republicans have operated for years.

[F]or all the griping about what amendments have or haven’t been added to the DoD Authorization, the fact remains that these appropriations measures have long been vehicles for unrelated legislation. McCain himself would know that. As Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich) noted right after he spoke on the floor, the Senate had previously considered hate crimes legislation in 2001, 2005, and 2008. McCain himself “offered a non-relevant amendment to the defense authorization bill,” Levin added, proposing “to acquire campaign finance disclosure by the so-called 527 organizations as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization.”

Meanwhile, as a Democratic source following the debate on the Hill noted, back in 2005, then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) managed to attach a provision granting immunity for companies manufacturing vaccines to protect against biological agents to an FY2006 DoD appropriations bill.

What do campaign-finance disclosures and immunity for vaccine companies have to do with funding the military? Not a thing, and therein lies the point. Republicans are whining incessantly about a legislative maneuver they’ve used many times.

McCain told Fox News the other day, “Interestingly, for many, many years, we never put any extraneous items on the bill because it was so important to defense and we just didn’t allow it.” He was either lying blatantly or he’s completely forgotten his own recent history in the Senate.

Indeed, the closer we look , the more examples we find. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has tried to add a concealed-weapons proposal to a previous defense authorization bill. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) used military funding to push a measure on indecency standards. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), interestingly enough, even tried to add the Dream Act to the 2007 defense authorization bill.

“When Senator McCain repeatedly says that extraneous items were never offered or put on the defense authorization bill, he’s just clearly wrong,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said yesterday.

He usually is.

Update: TPM finds even more examples of using the defense spending bill for extraneous amendments, including GOP efforts to ban Internet gambling and opening ANWR to oil drilling.