Senate Republicans are once again criticizing Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., over his handling of amendments in the most recent budget process. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — Seven weeks after a fight over Republican amendments nearly ended a five-decade streak of passing a national defense authorization act (NDAA), the battle is still raging and shows no signs of receding.
The upper chamber on Nov. 21 killed the Senate Armed Services Committee’s version of the 2014 NDAA on a chaotic day in which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., altered filibuster rules and rejected new GOP amendments.
Reid and senior Democrats decided which NDAA amendments from both parties would get a floor debate and vote. The committee’s Democratic chairman, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, and top Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, agreed to dozens of amendments as floor debate began.
But, in a version of events told then by Levin and never since discounted by Inhofe aides, Republicans on the morning of Nov. 21 wanted debates and votes on nearly two dozen amendments Levin and Reid had not seen as they were setting up the NDAA floor process. They rejected them, and Republicans blocked a procedural move to a final vote before Thanksgiving.
Another version of the Pentagon policy bill eventually passed about a month later, but congressional sources and analysts warn the amendments flap might sink the next version of the NDAA, which perennially features controversial amendments.
In late December, with the Senate poised to approve a House-passed budget plan — Washington’s first in four years — Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., declared that measure “gives us certainty for 2015 so we can return to a ‘regular order’ of actually knowing where we stand with our cap, holding our hearings and bringing bills to the [Appropriations] Committee.”
Other lawmakers — Democratic and Republican — issued similar predictions.
Fast forward to Tuesday, when the amendments flap erupted again.
The latest source of Republicans’ collective ire is a bill that would reauthorize emergency unemployment benefits. Reid has said there will be no amendments debated or voted on during the ongoing floor process.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said GOP members want to offer some changes to the bill to assuage their collective concerns. “But he won’t let us have a single amendment,” McCain said on Tuesday.
“It’s total dictatorial behavior,” McCain said, telling reporters if they want to know if Reid will relent on his handling of amendments should the unemployment bill fail, “you’ll have to go ask the dictator.”
Reid’s spokesman, Adam Jentleson, fired back on Wednesday.
“When Rs complain about amends, note that the Senate has voted on minority amends at higher rate under Reid than under either Frist or Lott,” Jentleson tweeted, using shorthand for Republicans and referring to former Sens. Bill Frist of Tennessee and Trent Lott of Mississippi. Both are former GOP majority leaders.