Senate votes to push defense bill, backs base closings

The Senate voted unanimously this morning to move ahead with the defense authorization bill, as several senators put aside objections to language in the bill allowing for further military base closures.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., had considered mounting an effort to prevent the Senate from ending debate on the bill. Ultimately, though, the Republican leader pulled back, fearing his efforts would sink the defense bill and bring to a close the newfound era of bipartisanship before it begins its fourth full week.

Lott's decision, which came after a meeting with Senate Republicans early today, was an indication of continuing congressional unity.

At issue was a vote on a cloture motion Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., filed last week to halt debate on the defense authorization measure. Daschle filed the procedural motion after Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., refused to back off a threat to add a comprehensive energy production measure to the defense bill. Democrats need 60 votes to limit debate on the defense bill and sidestep Inhofe's energy amendment.

Lott then signaled he might try to block the cloture motion by rallying Republicans who support the energy bill and Republicans who oppose a provision in the defense bill that allows for another round of base closings.

Several military outposts in Mississippi, including Columbus Air Force Base, are expected to be in the next round of base closures.

"Columbus is absolutely going to be on anybody's list when it comes to base closings," said one source familiar with the issue.

Last week, Lott and more than two-dozen other Republicans tried to strip the base closing provision from the defense bill. However, the Senate voted, 53-47, to protect the measure.

Geoff Earle contributed to this report.

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