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Levin Presses for Floor Action Soon on Defense Bill

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin said he hopes the defense authorization bill will see floor action before July 4, a deadline that could easily slip given the long list of other legislative priorities.

“Our goal is to get it up before the summer recess … even before the July Fourth recess,” the Michigan Democrat told reporters Friday, one day after the Armed Services panel approved the defense bill by a vote of 18-10.

“Does it complicate my life to try to get the bill to the floor when complicated matters are in a bill? Of course it does. But that’s my hope, that we’ll be able to succeed,” Levin added.

The Senate measure includes language that would overturn the military’s controversial “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

The bill also includes a provision by Armed Services ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) to send 6,000 National Guard troops to the Southwest border. Levin said he opposes that language, which was narrowly approved 15-13 by the committee, setting the stage for a floor fight on the issue. “We can add, we can recommend, we can fund, we can prohibit, but can you direct the commander in chief to send troops to a specific place? There’s no precedent for it,” Levin said.

He added that since the vote in the committee was close, he assumes the issue will be raised on the floor.

Meanwhile, McCain has threatened to filibuster the bill, which typically enjoys broad bipartisan support, if it includes the “don’t ask, don’t tell” language.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) listed a host of legislative priorities for the Senate to take up after the weeklong Memorial Day break, including the pressing issue of tax extenders and unemployment benefits. Reid also mentioned bills on food safety, small-business lending and campaign spending as potential agenda items for the work period before July 4.

The House was poised Friday to vote on final passage of its version of the defense authorization, which also includes language banning the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that bans openly gay service members from serving in the military.

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