Republican Discord Leaves Defense Policy Bill in Limbo

“There is not the time to go through a process where you are going to have amendments,” Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.,  said. “That is behind us.” “There is not the time to go through a process where you are going to have amendments,” Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., said. “That is behind us.” J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Wavering support from Republican leadership is threatening to derail a fast-track plan to pass a National Defense Authorization Act before the House leaves town Friday, a maneuver that would spare members the embarrassment of being the rare Congress that fails to pass the measure before year’s end.

Leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services committees have struck a bipartisan deal in which both chambers pass identical legislation—the House this week before adjourning and the Senate the next. The plan would block members of either body from making amendments to the measure, an expediency the plan’s proponents say is necessary due to the tight timing.

“The choices are not, ‘Do you want to have an NDAA bill the way we are having it here, or do you want to have one the normal way it takes place?’ because that is not possible anymore,” Senate Armed Services ranking member James Inhofe, R-Okla., said in a press conference announcing the Armed Services leaders’ deal Monday.

“There is not the time to go through a process where you are going to have amendments,” Inhofe said. “That is behind us.”

But Inhofe acknowledged he did not have assurances that Republican leadership will support the deal and agree to pass the bill without amendments in the Senate.

“I can’t tell you we have a commitment on the Republican side for this,” Inhofe said. “We have a lot more support than we would have had, or than we did have during consideration of the bill.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office said it had not seen the details Monday evening. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., reiterated remarks Majority Leader Harry Reid made on the floor Monday that Democrats hope the House will send over the defense bill this week.

Committee members were due to be briefed on the deal Monday night, and Levin said he will present the agreement to the Democratic Caucus at lunch Tuesday.

“This is the only way we can pass a bill this year,” Levin said, pointing out that a similar strategy was used in 2008 and 2010 to pass the bill.

Proponents of the plan are cautiously optimistic about their chances in the House—which passed its version of the NDAA in June with a wide margin.

But Senate Republicans were angered last month when they were unable to offer amendments to the massive annual defense authorization bill in an open process on the floor. That frustration has only grown since Senate Democrats deployed the so-called nuclear option to gut Republicans’ ability to filibuster executive nominees.

And if rank-and-file members are determined to slow the measure, they can object to the process and throw up procedural hurdles that drag it out.

None of this precludes Congress from beating the clock: Defense authorization bills have routinely come close to lapsing only to be saved in a last-minute deal.

But for that to work this time around, Congress will have to get agreement—or at least acquiescence—on a string of difficult issues.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is pushing a spate of budget amendments, including a measure to audit the Pentagon. And the bill does not address additional sanctions against Iran, an issue that Reid on Monday acknowledged still needs to be addressed.

A senior Senate aide said the lack of action on Iran sanctions could be a problem for some members. “This duck won’t hunt with several senators if the bill doesn’t include Iran sanctions,” said the aide. “Levin could have a bipartisan revolt on his hands if he ignores the growing calls to put a bipartisan sanctions text in the NDAA.”

Other amendments that would be left behind include: a bid from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to change the way the military deals with sexual-assault allegations; a competing amendment from Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., aimed at addressing the same issue; and efforts to rein in the National Security Agency’s domestic spying programs.

House Armed Services Committee leaders are trying to preemptively assuage complaints about amendments by noting they considered 87 amendments behind the scenes and reached an agreement to incorporate 79 of them into the revised bill.

The members will also claim credit for striking a deal on how to handle detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility that the administration wants to close; the House and Senate split the difference between their approaches.

The compromise includes a nod to the House by preventing the transfer of detainees to the U.S., but it would allow the transfer of detainees to other countries under certain conditions, as the Senate bill had allowed.

The bill would authorize $552.1 billion in spending for national defense and an additional $80.7 billion for overseas contingency operations.

In making the case why the bill has to be finalized this month, Inhofe stressed that authorizations for defense programs and combat pay expire at the end of the year. The military would continue to be funded even if the authorization bill lapses, but the lack of legislation would prevent scheduled pay increases and hardship compensation from taking effect.

And that January will be dominated by budget and spending battles over the expiring continuing resolution to fund the government and the debt ceiling.

“We are going to be spending all of our time on the CR. After that we have the debt limit so it’s just not going to be done unless it’s done this way,” Inhofe said. “It’s critical that people understand that.”

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.