Defense Bill Deal Expected to Surface Monday

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted December 9, 2013 at 11:40am

The fact that the Senate failed to pass its own defense authorization bill doesn’t seem to have kept Armed Services Committee leaders from hammering out an agreement with their House counterparts.

When senators left town for Thanksgiving, they were working on their chamber’s version of the fiscal 2014 edition of the defense policy bill, with no end in sight to an all-too-familiar dispute over amendments.

After the Senate turned back a motion to limit debate on the defense measure 51-44 (short of the required 60 votes), Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., expressed frustration that he could not even get an agreement to adopt cleared amendments that have no substantive objection on either side of the aisle. But now, senators are returning to the Capitol with a deal essentially in hand between House and Senate negotiators. It is set to be unveiled at a news conference on Monday afternoon, according to an aide familiar the schedule.

An agreement at this point would give lawmakers a few options to get the bill finished, including the possibility of passing the deal by unanimous consent. Such a move wouldn’t be unprecedented — a similar scenario played out during the 2010 lame-duck session.

Or, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could strip down the defense bill left hanging in limbo on the Senate floor when senators left town and move forward by inserting the final deal as a substitute amendment, providing that he can muster the 60 votes needed to cut of a potential filibuster. As the calendar moves closer to Christmas, the odds that those votes materialize will only increase.

Still, it may prove impossible to get the bill done without at least nominally resolving the disagreement between two camps of senators, led by Democrats Kristen Gillibrand of New York and Claire McCaskill of Missouri, about the appropriate way to handle military sexual-assault allegations.

Both senators would like to see votes on amendments, and Gillibrand went a step further, filing her legislation as a standalone bill before the recess. It is not teed up for floor consideration on its own if necessary. This scenario would further solidify the expectation that there will be no floor action on additional Iran sanctions until next year.

On the Senate side, Democrats also would like to move through a series of nominations before breaking for the holiday, a process that could take close to 200 hours if Republican senators decide to force the use of all available debate time.