McCollum proposes NASCAR, Afghanistan amendments

WASHINGTON – This week, most of the Washington media are watching negotiations between Democrats and Republicans on raising the nation’s debt ceiling, but the House of Representatives is working on a big piece of legislation too, the massive $649 billion Defense Appropriations Act.

Following in the footsteps of earlier attempts to end military sponsorship for NASCAR teams, DFL Rep. Betty McCollum plans to offer an amendment limiting such support for NASCAR and other motor sports to $20 million a year. According to data collected by McCollum’s office, military sponsorship of motor sports costs taxpayers nearly $100 million a year.

McCollum’s office received death threats from irate NASCAR fans when she proposed a similar amendment in February. The congresswoman’s staff told MPR News that there’s no evidence the sponsorship has helped the military recruit new soldiers, the programs’ intended purpose.

Another McCollum amendment would cut off funds to the $150 million Task Force for Business and Stability Operations in Afghanistan, which is run from the Secretary of Defense’s office. The program’s website says it focuses on “operations aimed at creating economic opportunities for the people of Afghanistan” by connecting American investors with Afghan businesses.

McCollum argues that programs like these are better operated by the State Department and US Agency for International Development, although both departments are likely to face deep cuts from Republican appropriators. One company participating in the task force highlighted by McCollum’s staff is the fashion firm Kate Spade, which hired an American who traveled to Afganistan to locate sources of cashmere.

The House is likely to debate the bill for the remainder of the week, with an open amendment process that’s likely to mean long hours for lawmakers and possibly rowdy debate. It’s not clear what chances of success McCollum’s amendments have as some southern Democrats have expressed discomfort with past attempts to cut NASCAR sponsorship and the Pentagon has requested funds for the Afghan business fund next year.

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