Sen. Carl Levin gestures during May hearings. Levin said Senate and House staff members will negotiate a compromise Pentagon policy bill in case the Senate fails to pass its own version. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
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The US Senate left town last week for a recess that will last into early September. It did so without scheduling floor time to take up an Armed Services Committee-passed version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Panel leaders are searching for a way to avoid last year’s partisan squabbling that sank their bill and forced a watered-down version to be passed late in the year.
What’s happening: The August recess is an annual congressional ritual. The October recess is a midterm election year congressional ritual, and that’s what is coming in two months so members can campaign for re-election. So that means September is the only chance before the new fiscal year begins for the Senate to pass its NDAA and allow for a traditional conference with House authorizers.
What’s next: The Senate might — might — get to the Pentagon policy bill in September. “I keep asking our leader when it’s going to be [on the floor.],” SASC Chairman and Ranking Member Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters last week. “And now, obviously, it’s going to be after August. I hope during September.”
What’s happening: The upper chamber’s NDAA crashed and burned last autumn when Republicans pushed for twice the number of amendments than Levin and James Inhofe, R-Okla., had expected. Republicans took a stand over what they call an unfair amendments process run by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. (above).
What’s next: Levin and Inhofe have been pleading with senators for months to submit their NDAA floor amendments now — rather than the morning the chamber is slated to begin votes on the bill. The duo took to the Senate floor on July 30 to again deliver that message to their colleagues. “No one should complain later on about not having their amendments heard if they’re not sending them down right now,” Inhofe sternly said. “There is no reason to put it off. We don’t want to go through what we had to last time.” Reid said on July 31 that doing the NDAA in September is “extremely important.”
Issue: Plan B
What’s happening: Though Levin remains characteristically confident — or at least hopeful — that the chamber will eventually pass his version of the bill, he learned from last year’s floor debacle. The House passed its version of the 2015 NDAA months ago. And as Levin noted last week, there are few major differences between the bills. That makes coming up with a Plan B easier, meaning a final version of the legislation crafted by House and Senate negotiators behind closed doors.
What’s next: House and Senate Armed Services Committee staffers have been meeting about a “pre-conferenced” bill, talks that Levin says will continue during the August recess. “I have to have a fallback plan,” Levin said last week. He said House and Senate staffers will continue meeting during the August recess about the fallback option, “which essentially would be a conference report.” Like last year, if a “pre-conferenced” measure is required, both chambers would be asked to pass it without any amendments. ■