Democrats in Congress are ready to give the Obama administration $5 billion in new funding to fight ISIS and other terror groups, despite the fact that the administration has no idea how the money will be spent.
When the president calls for Congress to approve his new counterterrorism fund in his speech Wednesday, it's unlikely he'll mention that for the last four months his administration has stifled calls from inside and outside the government for the White House to specify exactly what the money is for. The White House’s lack of urgency led to some to believe they weren’t actually invested in seeing the fund become a reality, but just wanted to create the appearance of doing something to fight Islamic extremists.
Now, looking for a quick way to pay for what the White House is promising will be a long struggle against ISIS, the fund is back in vogue both inside the administration and on Capitol Hill. Similar to the overall plan to defeat ISIS, details of the fund remain scarce, yet the process is moving forward due of a mix of fear and confusion.
“We don’t know what the details are, so we can’t say what is in it and what isn’t,” said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, who said the fund could be used to fight ISIS in Iraq or even Syria if that’s what the president decides to do. “I think that kind of flexibility is useful.”
It wasn't always so. When President Obama first proposed his new Counterterrorism Partnership Fund in his West Point speech in May, the public announcement came as a total surprise to lawmakers and even officials in his own administration. The White House had not consulted anyone and had no details about what they planned to do with the money, other than to support and bolster countries on the front lines of the terror war, from Jordan to Yemen to Mali.
Leaders in both chambers and both parties were especially skeptical of Obama’s idea that $500 million of that money would be used to train the moderate Syrian rebels. Without more details, Congress said, there’s no way that they would just hand over the cash.
Then ISIS took over a major Iraqi city, expanded its reach across Syria and into Lebanon, and most recently distributed videos of their beheading of two American journalists. Now lawmakers, especially the Democrats, are singing a different tune.
Several top Democratic and Republican senators told The Daily Beast on Friday that the administration has given Congress zero details about the proposed fund and consultations have been next to nonexistent. But Democrats said that was perfectly fine with them.
“I support doing what we need to do to defeat ISIS,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez told The Daily Beast when asked about the fund.
Senate appropriators are already preparing to hand Obama the $5 billion. The draft of the defense appropriations bill would give the Pentagon $4 billion of the funds. The draft of the State Department and foreign operations appropriations bill contains the other $1 billion. All the money would be classified as war funding in the overseas contingency operations part of the defense budget.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski, the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said she was open to including the money in the catch-all omnibus government spending bill Congress needs to pass before leaving Washington, D.C., for the fall campaigns.
“My goal [for the spending bill] is: no government shutdown, do no harm, position for an omnibus, and have the money to deal with the national security threats facing the nation,” she said.
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