Sen. Carl Levin. (Staff photo)
Sen. James Inhofe / Times News Service
WASHINGTON — US Senate Armed Services Committee leaders, for the first time, acknowledged the chamber may fail to pass a Pentagon policy bill before Thanksgiving.
SASC Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Ranking Member James Inhofe, R-Okla., separately told reporters that even if the must-pass bill remains unpassed before the Senate adjourns for a two-week recess, there will be a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 52nd consecutive year.
“Even if we can’t get it passed the normal way, we’ll try and get it passed somehow,” Levin said as he headed for the Senate chamber Thursday morning.
“It won’t be a shell bill,” Levin said when asked about passing a version of the NDAA with only essential portions, such as ones that authorize overall Pentagon, service and program-specific spending levels.
That means defense hawks and Senate leaders must “try to get it done some other way,” the SASC chairman said.
One option would be to take the committee’s bill and begin conference committee talks with the House Armed Services Committee. Both chambers, then, perhaps early next year, would simply approve the resulting conference report.
“I don’t think we could get ... a normal conference report unless we can finish this week,” Levin told reporters.
Levin then entered the Senate chamber, which was filling up as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was preparing to alter the chamber’s rules to terminate the filibuster for judicial nominations, described as the “nuclear option.”
As part of that brewing brawl, Inhofe said Reid “might shut everything down.”
That would mean “we won’t get it this week,” Inhofe said of the NDAA’s passage.
“But we will have a defense authorization bill,” Inhofe said.
The SASC ranking member said on Thursday he would pitch to Levin and Reid a new GOP plan that shrinks the party’s desired defense bill amendments from 81 to 25.
“If they will go along with that, we could actually have it this week,” he said. “I’m not at all optimistic that will happen.”
The NDAA process got off to a slow start and stalled late Wednesday afternoon when GOP members objected to Reid’s motion to move to votes on two controversial amendments addressing Pentagon sexual assault policy.
Like Levin, a House source declined to comment on options that could be invoked to eventually pass the NDAA.
Senior SASC member John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters it’s unclear what the flap over the “nuclear option” means for passing the defense bill this week.
But Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is close with Republican leaders told reporters “I don’t know if the NDAA becomes law.”
Part of the problem is those options would require ample give-and-take among lawmakers and agreement on a myriad complex matters. So no one wants to discuss something they might not want invoked.
There were several amendments filed earlier this week on sequestration and slapping reporting requirements on Air Force plans to cut spending by retiring its venerable A-10 attack planes. It was not immediately clear whether those GOP amendments are included in Inhofe’s shrunken list.