Defense bill likely to pass quickly after a short delay

After getting bogged down Thursday night by debate on a United Nations overhaul bill, the House has moved consideration of the fiscal 2006 Defense appropriations bill to Monday.

The House Appropriations Committee last week passed the $408.7 billion bill, which includes $45.3 billion in emergency "bridge" funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman C.W. (Bill) Young, R-Fla., initially hoped to push the bill to the floor earlier this week.

Debate on the bill is expected to be brief, with only a handful of amendments pending. "If you blink your eyes, you'll miss it," a spokesman for the Appropriations Committee said.

Republicans are expected to introduce an amendment that would strike language offered by Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., and adopted in full committee markup that would issue a sense of Congress prohibiting religious proselytizing at the Air Force Academy. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., offered a similar amendment during the FY06 defense authorization markup last month, but it was rejected.

Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., wrote the Rules Committee in an attempt to strike Obey's amendment from the bill, but the panel agreed to retain the language. Hunter said today that Republicans plan to make another attempt at stripping the language. The debate will be a "good, high-level discussion," Hunter said. "We've got a number of members interested in that."

Thursday's debate on the Defense bill centered on calls for an Iraq exit strategy, after the House Rules Committee denied a waiver from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to offer an amendment calling on Bush to outline a troop-withdrawal plan within a month of the bill's enactment. The amendment would have amounted to legislating on an appropriations bill, the Rules Committee said in denying the amendment. Still, Pelosi and other Democrats are expected to make floor statements on the exit-strategy issue. Democrats also might use debate to voice concerns about detainees at the military detention camp on Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.