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Republicans delay votes on defense bill

Move causes more headaches for Democrats navigating busy year-end agenda

Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed has pledged to work with his GOP counterpart on the committee, James M. Inhofe, to secure a deal on the defense policy bill.
Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed has pledged to work with his GOP counterpart on the committee, James M. Inhofe, to secure a deal on the defense policy bill. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Republican senators voted against moving toward a final vote on the annual Pentagon policy bill Monday evening, demanding that Democrats agree to hold floor votes on more GOP amendments.

The rejected procedural vote on the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act will further delay a vote on final passage but also increase pressure on Democrats who are juggling the defense bill along with year-end appropriations, a coming debt ceiling deadline and a social safety net and climate change bill that is at the core of President Joe Biden’s agenda.

The cloture vote on the substitute amendment was 45-51, with 60 needed.

The vote turned into a vehicle for Republican senators to voice their displeasure with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s decision to delay floor consideration for four months after the Armed Services Committee approved the bill by a 23-3 vote in July. 

“We are in this position because of Sen. Schumer, who is forcing this unfortunate action. He isn’t giving us ample time to debate the bill or hold an open amendment process,” said Armed Services ranking member James M. Inhofe, R-Okla.

“I’m still very supportive of this bill, but I stand with my colleagues who are voting against the majority leader’s mismanagement,” Inhofe said. 

On Nov. 18, Inhofe had urged his fellow lawmakers to pass the NDAA, in spite of what he called the chamber’s “late start.” That day, he called it “the biggest and the most important bill of the year.”

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also voted against invoking cloture and accused Schumer of keeping the defense bill “in limbo” and now blocking the Senate from a “real debate and a real amendment process.”

Schumer, on the other hand, cast blame on Republicans for not moving the bill before the Thanksgiving recess. 

“We hope that Republican dysfunction will not be a roadblock to passing this bill and taking care of our troops and their families,” Schumer said.

‘Big Four’ could shape final bill

Before the Thanksgiving break, a manager’s package of amendments that can be adopted by unanimous consent began to take shape.  But a deal on how many and which amendments might receive floor time for debate and an individual vote — about 20 proposals, with both Democrats and Republicans as lead sponsors — fell apart. 

Now, it is unclear which amendments will receive votes, if any. 

Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said it wasn’t unusual for the Senate to move to a floor vote after only a handful of votes on individual amendments, or none at all, and that he had been fair. “We just missed an opportunity to send a clear message that we support this legislation, we support our troops,” he said.

Reed also expressed confidence that the bill would pass eventually, but perhaps with a less open floor process than the one he had initially planned, and which Republicans, ironically, rejected through Monday’s vote. “We’ll have to use procedures that are appropriate to get it done,” he said, hinting that Armed Services Committee leaders, the so-called Big Four, might have to make the call on what’s in the final bill.

Ultimately, the House and Senate must pass the agreed-upon version to send it to the president for enactment.

The NDAA process is complicated by the fact that the continuing resolution currently keeping the government open expires on Friday, and by Democrats’ desire to vote on the budget reconciliation bill that is a major piece of Biden’s legislative agenda. Amid all this, Congress also needs to raise the country’s debt limit.

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