Defense authorization bill may be sidelined until after elections

Disagreement over potential federal court security and anti-gang immigration additions delays conference report.

Despite hoped-for approval this week, prospects are uncertain for final action on the fiscal 2007 defense authorization conference as negotiations between House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., remain stalled.

After failing to come to a deal last week, Hastert pledged this weekend not to bring the bill to the floor unless Warner agreed to the addition of stalled federal court security legislation and a controversial Republican anti-gang immigration measure.

Both proposals face opposition in the Senate, but the anti-gang bill, which is part of the House GOP leadership's border security agenda trotted out to court voters for the November mid-terms, faces the most problems with Democrats.

Senate Minority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., had previously supported the court security measure and Hastert's office has pressured him to put his weight behind the measure, but Durbin has pulled back his support over the addition of a concealed-weapons provision in the bill. For his part, Warner has pledged not to allow any extraneous provision on the defense authorization bill that does not have unanimous bipartisan support.

House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., also has indicated he wants approval before the October recess, saying he does not want the authorization bill dragging into December, like last year's bill, with a multitude of additions delaying passage.

House Republicans tried last December to attach campaign finance reform legislation addressing 527 groups to the fiscal 2006 defense authorization bill, only to drop the effort at the last minute, but GOP leadership aides downplayed the comparison.

A spokesman for Hastert said the speaker is committed to attaching both provisions to the defense authorization conference report. "The speaker will not move this bill until these critical security measures are included in it," Hastert's spokesman said Monday.

Hastert's office noted that the anti-gang language in question is not the same as the House-approved measure, but language previously approved by the Senate, a move made to ensure easier approval. Hastert's spokesman also said that after agreeing in July to remove the court security provisions from the "Child Protection and Safety Act," the speaker received a promise from the Senate leadership that the legislation would be added to a legislative vehicle prior to the November elections.

With Hastert sticking to his guns, the defense authorization bill appears primed to be delayed into November's lame-duck session. One congressional aide reported that while the Defense and Homeland Security appropriations bills were discussed in a morning meeting of senior Republican Senate staff, the defense authorization bill was noticeably absent from the discourse.

Megan Scully contributed to this report.