Deal will allow Dems to offer amendments to Defense bill

Senate Democrats say they have cut a deal with Republicans giving them another crack at a handful of amendments they claimed were rejected incorrectly by the parliamentarian as irrelevant to the fiscal 2004 defense reauthorization bill last week.

When the House version of the bill comes to the Senate floor in June, Democrats will be allowed to offer amendments to repeal 2005 base closings and allow veterans to collect both disability and retirement pay that were ruled irrelevant last week. Democrats said they were baffled as to why the amendments were considered irrelevant since they related to the bill's subject, and the parliamentarian's office did not return phone calls asking for clarification.

The dustup over the amendments' relevancy, which occurred during floor debate on the bill last Tuesday and Wednesday, resulted in Democrats vowing to never again agree to a unanimous consent request from the majority to make all amendments be relevant to a bill.

"There'll be no more UCs. I have a standing order in the cloakroom that I object to a UC that prohibits anything on relevant amendments. We were prohibited from offering amendments that are clearly relevant," Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chairman Byron Dorgan of North Dakota told CongressDaily last week. Dorgan was one of the chief senators who took issue with the relevancy rulings.

The result of this vow may be that bills take longer to pass the Senate, where legislation already bogs down on a routine basis. The House Defense authorization bill is expected to come to the Senate in the next two weeks. A total of five amendments will be offered on base closings, veterans' benefits and immigration. Each amendment has at least one Republican cosponsor.

The Senate also is expected to take up the energy bill next week, followed by a prescription drug bill, on which no agreements have been made to require amendments to be relevant.