Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid talks to reporters about using the so-called 'nuclear option' to change some Senate rules on the filibuster. (Getty Images)
Levin Blames NDAA Failure on Republicans
US Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin on Thursday evening pinned blame for the chamber’s failure to pass a defense authorization bill on Senate Republicans.
The Michigan Democrat told reporters the two parties had agreed to about 60 amendments on Wednesday afternoon. But, in a move he described as surprising, Levin said Senate Ranking Member James Inhofe, R-Okla., and other GOP senators presented about 20 additional amendments that Democrats had not yet signed off on.
Included in that list were amendments targeting President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform law and on Iran sanctions, two issues Democrats say are not germane to a defense policy bill.
It is unclear how the two sides will reconcile that split when the chamber returns in two weeks.
Asked if the chamber has time in its short December session to finish the NDAA, Levin replied: “We’ve done it before with less time.”
— JOHN BENNETT
WASHINGTON — A US Senate war erupted Thursday over scuttling its filibuster rules, killing work on a Pentagon policy bill and ensuring it will not be passed before Thanksgiving.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is close with Republican leaders, told reporters, “I don’t know if the NDAA becomes law.”
The scene outside the Senate chamber was chaotic Thursday as war broke out between Democrats and Republicans after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., led a push to terminate the filibuster for judicial and executive branch nominations.
As the smoke cleared from Thursday’s filibuster battle, members of both parties agreed the chamber’s version of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could remain unpassed when the Senate adjourns for the Thanksgiving recess. And most predicted the bill will pass, in some form, but only after the chamber returns from its long-planned break.
“I wouldn’t think this week,” said SASC member and Republican Conference Vice Chair Roy Blunt of Missouri. “But I think it would be hard for the majority leader to not do the defense bill for the first time in 51 years.
“But, obviously, the majority runs everything now,” Blunt said in a swipe at Democrats, “so you’ll have to ask them.”
About an hour later, however, the Senate scheduled a vote to end debate on the defense bill, a move that could allow it to quickly take up a pared-down list of amendments — possibly around 50 — and complete the bill sometime on Friday.
The Senate killed the cloture motion, falling 11 votes shy of the 60 needed to end debate.
Reid’s “nuclear” move had sent partisan bad blood to new heights, Republicans told reporters Thursday. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the environment “poisonous.”
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., released a statement minutes after the cloture vote failed, vowing to eventually pass the NDAA.
“Given the importance of this bill to our troops, their families, and our national security,” Levin said, “I’m nowhere close to giving up on completing the defense authorization bill, even though we will only have days, not weeks, to complete it.”
Levin told reporters the chamber’s version of the NDAA is “now in jeopardy.”
The upper chamber spent the morning on a series of votes related to the filibuster, then moved into what appeared to be an afternoon of floor speeches about the ramifications of Reid’s move.
That time would have been used for continued floor debate and potential votes of amendments to the chamber’s version of the NDAA. Democratic leaders and defense hawks from both parties had hoped to pass the defense bill before a two-week Thanksgiving recess, giving the House and Senate Armed Services committees time to agree on a compromise version before Dec. 31.
The fallout over the filibuster, however, means Congress may end its own 51-year streak of passing a final NDAA.
In a twist, McCain told reporters the fallout from Reid invoking the so-called “nuclear option” could force the Senate next month to take up the House-passed NDAA. That could allow for a process under which the streak would remain active.
A House Armed Services Committee GOP source told Defense News the differences between the two committees’ versions are not that stark, and likely could be ironed out quickly.
“There is nothing in terms of substance that’s holding this bill up,” the HASC source said. “There are no policy debates or differences that we cannot come to agreement on.”
McCain said taking up the House-approved version is merely one leading option, adding that no final decision had been made. He also said it was doubtful a repeatedly amended House version would merely ping-pong back and forth between the chambers until final passage.
“Oh yeah, it’d still be conference,” he told Defense News.
Reid filed cloture Wednesday night on the defense bill. At an early afternoon press conference, Reid urged Republicans to yield back remaining time on that clock, and hold a vote to end debate later Thursday.
That appears to have happened.
Republican senators charged that Democratic leaders opted for the “nuclear option” to avoid floor votes on a GOP Iran sanctions amendment to the defense bill.
“The Iran sanctions amendments, I think they wanted to avoid,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters. “I think if we can get an Iran sanctions legislation outside of the defense bill, that might get a second chance” on both the NDAA and a sanctions measure, he added.
Several amendments have been filed earlier this week on sequestration and on slapping reporting requirements on Air Force plans to cut spending by retiring its venerable A-10 attack planes.
SASC Ranking Member James Inhofe, R-Okla., was slated to present Reid and Levin with a pared list of GOP amendments – down from 81 to 25 – before the filibuster war started.
It was not immediately clear whether those GOP amendments are included in Inhofe’s shrunken list.
Levin told reporters Wednesday afternoon that whenever the chamber moves beyond two controversial sexual assault amendments — which may never get a floor vote — it could move multiple non-controversial amendments quickly via managers’ packages.