Senate minority leader urges action on defense spending

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told reporters Monday the Senate needs to take up a fiscal 2001 defense supplemental appropriations bill this week in order to meet the nation's defense needs.

"We're really pushing the envelope when it comes to the needs of our defense," he said.

Lott said he had proposed to Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., that the Senate take up the bill Monday and vote Tuesday with few, if any, amendments, but said Daschle declined the offer.

Daschle is insisting the Senate stay in session until it completes action on the pending "Patients' Bill of Rights" legislation, the supplemental, and a new organizing resolution for the Senate, and says the Senate will stay on the managed care bill until it is completed.

Lott said it was "possible" the Senate could complete action on the managed care bill this week, although he said there were "four or five areas where serious amendments will be offered," including a "critical" amendment by Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, dealing with employer liability.

"We'll get a good idea soon for what the prospects are for getting a bill through the Senate," he said.

Lott said there was a pressing need to act on the defense bill this week in order to convene a conference committee with the House, which is scheduled to adjourn Thursday for the Fourth of July recess. He said failure to act this week would put off final action on the bill until mid-July.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., and ranking member Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, are working together to get a time agreement to bring the supplemental to the floor as quickly as possible.

According to a document prepared by the Defense Department's legislative liaison office and sent to Lott, if the supplemental is held up until late July, the Pentagon would have to curtail non-essential operations such as pilot training and fleet exercises, cancel base property maintenance, curtail support services for military personnel and families, and potentially hold deployed units overseas until the start of the new fiscal year to save the costs of rotations.

Lott said he was hopeful the Senate would pass a new organizing resolution this week. He said Republicans and Daschle had "pretty much" reached agreement last week on holding a floor vote on the most contentious unresolved issue--a GOP proposal to ensure that Supreme Court nominees receive floor votes.

Lott said even if the proposal were voted down, "I think in the end it would be pretty hard not to bring Supreme Court nominees to the floor of the Senate."

Lott predicted allowing a vote might be the way the issue would be finally resolved, but added, "You don't agree on any one part until you agree on all the parts."

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