The doors to the Senate Chamber inside the US Capitol. SASC Chairman Carl Levin has given his approval for preliminary talks about a compromise version of the national defense authorization act. The 'pre-conferencing' tactic has been used before to pass defense legislation when the Senate has been unable to get its own bill done. (JIM WATSON/AFP)
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WASHINGTON — US Senate staffers have the “green light” to start preliminary talks about a compromise version of a Pentagon policy bill that could quickly pass both chambers later this year.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters Tuesday he is hesitant to use the word “pre-conferencing” because “that’s too formal.”
It also runs a risk of sending a signal to other members that he has lost hope that the upper chamber can put aside years-old bitterness about amendments and floor process and pass his panel’s version of a 2015 Pentagon policy bill.
“I think discussions have already begun,” Levin said. “Last week my staff asked me if it was OK to begin talking to House staff. My answer was yes.
“I have given the green light to have preliminary discussions,” he said. “We’ve got to have a fallback plan.”
A Plan B would be required if, for the second consecutive year, the Senate fails to pass its own version of a national defense authorization act (NDAA).
The “pre-conferencing” tactic has been used before to pass defense legislation when the Senate has been unable to get its own bill done.
What typically would occur is both chambers pass different versions of a bill, then a House-Senate conference committee irons out differences and produces a version that gets quick approval in each chamber.
But the Senate’s Democrats-vs.-Republicans spat over procedure and amendments has made passing any legislation nearly impossible. Republicans blame Democratic leaders with refusing to hold debates and votes on enough of their amendments; Democrats believe Republicans are obstructing work on legislation by offering non-germane amendments — or demanding too many to allow for a timely floor process.
Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told CongressWatch on Tuesday that “it’s up to the majority leader if we do the defense bills.”
He was referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., whom Republicans blame for the Senate’s legislative stall.
“You can’t rule out anything around here,” Shelby quipped. “But you better not rule it in right now in July.” ■