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Senate advances compromise defense policy bill

New York Sen. Gillibrand continues to object to a provision overhauling the military justice system

House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith says the bill will toughen prosecutions of sexual assault in the military.
House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith says the bill will toughen prosecutions of sexual assault in the military. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate easily advanced the compromise defense policy bill Tuesday, voting 86-13 to end debate on the measure, which would authorize $768 billion in spending.

The bill is now set for a passage vote that would send it to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

The fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act has undergone a tortuous route to enactment. The House marked up and passed its version in September, but the Senate’s efforts to pass its own bill stalled earlier this month when lawmakers could not agree on which amendments to consider on the floor.

Florida Republican Marco Rubio held out for consideration of his amendment to bar importation of Chinese goods made by the slave labor of Uyghurs and others. Democrats said they could not attach Rubio’s legislation to the larger bill because it involved new revenue, and bills generating new revenue have to originate in the House under the Constitution.

Consequently, Democratic and Republican leaders of the Armed Services committees hashed out a compromise bill, which the House passed last week. While the deal allowed the NDAA to advance, it angered many lawmakers who saw their provisions stripped.

Sexual assault debate

Congress has passed the NDAA for 60 straight years. This year’s bill revises the military’s approach to some felonies by putting them in the hands of military lawyers instead of commanders, but not to the satisfaction of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who had wanted more decisions to be up to the new special prosecutors.

Gillibrand’s vocal criticism that “four men in a closed room” made final decisions on the bill has put her at odds with key lawmakers in her own party, including Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., and House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash.

Reed and Smith both pushed back on Gillibrand’s criticisms, saying the bill will transform how the military handles sexual assault cases.

Gillibrand was among the 13 senators voting against cloture — the others included five Republicans and several progressive Democrats — but her objections notwithstanding, the bill seems poised to pass the Senate easily.

Before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., encouraged his colleagues to support advancing the bill.

“While the process has been imperfect, I’m glad that bipartisan work has produced a bill that authorizes an increase in topline funding for our national defense,” McConnell said.

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