Republican opposition is building against passing a Pentagon policy bill without amendments. (Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — US Senate Republicans are raising vocal opposition against a proposal to pass a Pentagon policy bill with no amendments, with Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell accusing Democrats of ducking votes on Iranian nuclear arms.
House and Senate Armed Services committee leaders from both parties are trying to shepherd through both chambers a 2014 Pentagon policy bill — without amendments — by the end of next week. The Armed Services leaders are racing the clock to keep alive a 51-year streak of passing the bill, 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.
Senior senators say Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid is amenable to such an approach. But the issue of amendments has become a sore spot for Senate Republicans; it was that very issue that sank the chamber’s version of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) late last month.
“Here we are, spending the whole week on nominations, none of which are emergencies, instead of dealing with the defense authorization bill, which has not been opened for amendment,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
McConnell later charged Senate Democrats with pushing the NDAA approach to avoid a vote on a GOP-preferred amendment on Iran sanctions at a time when the Obama administration strongly opposes such measures in the midst of talks — and a preliminary deal — over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
“It’s another transparent attempt to prevent a vote on ... Iran sanctions,” McConnell said. “They are trying to circumvent the Senate to pass major legislation ... without amendment instead of nominations, none of which are emergencies.”
Senate Republicans huddled a bit longer than usual in their weekly Tuesday caucus luncheon, talking about a list of bills the chamber could address before leaving next Friday (Dec. 20) for a holiday break.
As GOP senators emerged, some made clear they will press — and posture — for an NDAA floor process that allows for some amendments.
Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. 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.
Earlier Tuesday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters some of his party mates — and some Democrats — could even use procedural tactics to keep the compromise Pentagon bill from coming to a vote.
“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.”
McConnell cast the proposed process as possibly unprecedented.
“I can’t remember, maybe there’s never been a time ... when there was a bill the size of the defense authorization bill up and nobody gets to offer amendments,” he said. “We ought to be turning toward the defense bill and opening it up for amendments, as we have always done in the past.”
But minutes later, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters an amendments-free process has been used twice in the last five years — 2010 and 2008 — to pass the formerly must-pass defense bill.
“It’s happened. It’s happened,” Levin said. “It’s not the desirable thing. ... But we were given no choice.”
He was referring to the Senate’s pre-Thanksgiving attempt to pass the bill with a set number of amendments. GOP members, preferring a greater number of amendments and an anti-Obamacare measure got a vote, led an effort to prevent a final NDAA vote then.
“We tried to get amendments for a week,” Levin said. “We were thwarted [from acting on] 40 cleared amendments” that both parties agreed to, he added.
Levin bristled at McConnell’s Iran sanctions allegation, saying legislation on that matter could get a vote. But he did not deny that the issue will not be included in the NDAA process, if the bill ever hits the Senate floor.
As GOP senators griped that the compromise bill would not include their desired amendments, Levin said of those GOP and Democratic amendments agreed to last month: “We tried to accommodate some of that material in our bill.
“So it’s not as though the bill ignores cleared amendments,” he said. “We did everything we could ... to include as much of that as we could.”
Levin said the compromise bill should hit the House floor “Thursday or Friday, I guess.” It would then move to the Senate next week, which, given its rules, likely would take several days to move to a final vote.
House Armed Services Committee leaders signaled Monday to reporters that their leadership, which controls that chamber’s agenda, had yet to sign off on the legislation and amendments-free approach.
HASC aides were mum on Tuesday about securing floor time this week. A House Rules Committee aide told Defense News, “I haven’t heard any definite plans” to craft a rule for addressing the bill.
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.