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Defense bill stalled in Senate over amendment dispute

A final vote on the measure is now expected after the Thanksgiving break

Sen. Jack Reed has narrowed the list of amendments to his defense policy bill that will get Senate votes.
Sen. Jack Reed has narrowed the list of amendments to his defense policy bill that will get Senate votes. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Republicans held up the Senate’s version of the annual Pentagon policy bill late Thursday night to protest Democratic leaders’ decision to exclude from consideration some of their amendments. 

After a day of negotiation, Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., put forth a manager’s package of 19 amendments to the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.

But senators including Marco Rubio of Florida, Steve Daines of Montana, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, Ted Cruz of Texas and Dan Sullivan of Alaska objected to proceeding unless their amendments were added to the list. 

Among the issues at stake, Rubio wanted a vote on his amendment to place importation limits on goods produced using forced labor in China. Daines had proposed an amendment to bar payments to families of immigrant families separated at the border during Donald Trump’s presidency. Toomey wanted the Senate to consider his proposal to call out countries that are major producers of the drug fentanyl, which is widely abused in the United States.

But Reed said leaders had to set limits on what could go into the defense authorization. Because Congress has successfully passed one for 60 straight years, it’s a desirable vehicle for senators to pursue objectives through the amendment process.

“We cannot and could never guarantee that every amendment offered would be included in this bill,” Reed said.

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who was criticized by lawmakers from both parties last week for not bringing the massive, $768 billion Pentagon policy bill to the floor sooner, cast blame on Republicans for holding up the process. 

“We could start voting on the amendments tonight but unfortunately, some on the other side won’t agree,” Schumer said, “Members on both sides want to get this done so these delays are unfortunate. There is no good reason to keep delaying. We should move the process forward.”

Manager’s package

Included in the manager’s package put forth by Reed were amendments on a wide range of issues. 

An amendment from John Hoeven, R-N.D., would prohibit the use of defense funds to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal. Another, from Rand Paul, R-Ky., would prohibit payments to the Taliban and rescind any funding for Afghanistan that was already appropriated. 

An amendment from Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., would cut $25 billion from the bill’s topline, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., would remove language from the bill that requires women to register with the Selective Service. 

The Senate is expected to reconvene on Friday to continue work on the bill, but a final vote is now not expected to occur until after the Thanksgiving weekend. 

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