House Expected to Pass Defense Bill Thursday
Congress may be gridlocked on most issues, but one major bill is on a glide path for the president’s desk.
The final conference version of the annual defense authorization measure (HR 4310), which was approved Tuesday, is set for House passage on Thursday and could clear the Senate as early as Friday.
The final bill reflects a series of tough compromises on hot-button measures, including ones related to terrorism detainees, abortion and gay marriage.
On detainees, lawmakers agreed to include tough language that reflects many of the House’s provisions but makes a major concession to Democrats about the transfer of detainees.
The one provision in the House bill about which the administration had expressed veto-worthy concerns — permanently blocking the transfer of detainees from the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — was rolled back to a one-year restriction, matching provisions in the past two defense policy laws signed by President Barack Obama.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Tuesday he does not believe the final bill will draw a presidential veto.
The overall bill authorizes $552.2 billion for base national defense and $88.5 billion for Overseas Contingencies Operations. It also authorizes a 1.7 percent pay increase for servicemembers.
Among the compromises was one to allow the Pentagon to proceed with its plans to fund a biofuels refinery but to fence off the $70 million in funding until the departments of Energy and Agriculture contribute an equal amount.
The final bill would retain a Senate provision allowing Pentagon funding for abortions for servicemembers in the case of rape or incest. It also retained a House provision making it clear that military chaplains could decide whether or not to preside over same-sex marriage ceremonies.
On Iran sanctions, the bill would adopt the Senate’s language but increase the time to implement the sanctions, most likely from 90 days to 180 days as the White House requested.
The conference report contains a provision that would block the use of funds for building or modifying a detention facility in the United States for holding terrorism detainees.
But lawmakers agreed to strike a Senate provision that would have barred indefinite detention of Americans taken in the war on terrorism largely because Democrats were unable to agree on the effects of the language, one aide familiar with conference negotiations said.
“There was real confusion as to what that provision was doing,” the aide said.
The move prompted an angry response from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who blasted John McCain of Arizona, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, for agreeing to the final bill.
“Our Bill of Rights is not something that can be cherry-picked at legislators’ convenience,” Paul said Wednesday in a written statement. “When I entered the United States Senate, I took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. It is for this reason that I will strongly oppose passage of the McCain conference report that strips the guarantee to a trial by jury.”
Matt Fuller contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this article stated the wrong amount for what would be fenced off initially from biofuels refinery funding. It is $70 million.