US Sen. John McCain warns of opposition to a proposed Pentagon policy bill. (Agence France-Presse)
WASHINGTON — Senior US senators say Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid supports moving a Pentagon policy bill — without amendments — crafted by both chambers’ Armed Services Committee leaders.
Democratic and Republican leaders of the two committees on Monday rolled out a compromise $607 billion defense funding bill, which includes $527 billion in base funding and $80 billion for the war in Afghanistan, they will try to push to final passage by the end of next week.
But in a potential death knell for the NDAA, Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Defense News, “we all want amendments to the bill.”
He spoke on behalf of the GOP caucus after exiting a luncheon with other Republicans.
Asked whether he would vote for a bill that banned amendments, Graham said, “we ought to not put ourselves in that position,” though he acknowledged there may be little time for the chambers to ping-pong amended versions.
The Armed Services leaders are racing the clock, with the House set to adjourn for the month on Friday and the Senate slated to do the same seven days later, if not sooner.
The panels’ leaders and senior staff hammered out the compromise legislation after the Senate failed before Thanksgiving to finish work on its version of the bill. The idea is for the House to pass it this week and the Senate to take it up next week.
SASC Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters Reid has signed off on that process.
The Nevada Democrat “is OK with it,” Levin said.
Minutes later, SASC Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., told Defense News Reid “should be supportive” because “he wants a bill.”
A Reid spokesman did not respond to an email message seeking confirmation.
A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., replied “I don’t know that he will” when asked if his boss would support the proposed amendments-free process.
Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who sits on the Armed Services Committee, told reporters GOP and Democratic members of the upper chamber could block the NDAA’s path.
“There are people who don’t want to do it,” McCain said. “There are people on my side and the Democrat side who are objecting to this process … because they haven’t got [votes on] amendments.”
McCain and other Republican lawmakers and aides are blaming Reid for the possible breaking of a 51-year streak of passing a final Pentagon policy bill.
“The first part of the problem is because the majority leader refused to bring up this bill that was reported out of the committee in June,” McCain said. “It’s disgraceful that we didn’t bring this bill to the floor a long time ago, therefore squeezing the time frame to the point where we’re having to resort to extraordinary measures.”
Levin told reporters in late November that Reid is not to blame, saying his leader had other priorities.
Just how “extraordinary” is up for interpretation. Levin pointed out that Congress several times in recent years has followed a similar process to the one laid out Monday to pass past NDAAs.
A House Armed Services Committee aide did not respond to a reporter’s inquires about whether the lower chamber’s GOP leaders, who were unaware of the pre-conferenced bill until Monday, are on board and will bring it to a vote this week.