OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: McKeon ‘confident’ Defense bill will get done

The Topline: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Thursday he was “confident” that Congress would pass the stalled Defense authorization bill this year.

But to do so, the Senate may have little chance to consider significant amendments on the bill.

House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters Thursday that the House and Senate Armed Services committees were preparing an informal conference report so the chambers could “ping-pong” the bill and get it passed.

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Smith said that route appeared to be the only way that the bill could get done before the end of next week — when the House is scheduled to adjourn for the year.

Asked if the Senate could still consider the bill through regular order, Smith said: “I would defer slightly to the Senate, but as I see things now, no.”

The Senate bill stalled before Thanksgiving over a dispute about amendments, as Republicans filibustered a motion to end debate on the bill.

Under the “ping-pong” process, an informal conference committee report agreed upon by the committees would be passed as a new bill by the House and sent to the Senate.

Smith said that the process wouldn’t stop the panels from tackling controversial issues in the bill, but he said new issues that senators want to take up as amendments on the floor — like new Iran sanctions — were not likely to get added.

“Iran sanctions are not in either bill, so that we can’t air drop in,” Smith said.

The plan to “ping-pong” the bill through both chambers is no sure thing, however, as senators could object to not getting the chance to pass significant amendments.

Smith said there did not appear to be time next week for the House to re-consider a Senate bill with major changes.

“We’re assuming that this is a one-volley game,” he said.

McKeon says no decision on retirement until Defense bill done: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said he wasn’t going to contemplate his future in Congress until the Defense bill was done.

Speculation has swirled around McKeon’s potential retirement, particularly after former California state Sen. Tony Strickland (R) filed this week to run in McKeon’s district should the chairman retire.

“You can ask me. When the time is right I will answer,” McKeon told reporters Thursday when asked about his retirement.

“I haven’t made a decision. And I’ve told people at home, I wanted to do that [Reagan Foundation] defense forum that we did, I want to get the Defense bill done, and I want to get the budget done. And then I will have some peace and calm to sit down and really think about my future.”

McKeon is term-limited as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, meaning he would have to give up the post unless he were to receive a waiver from Republican leadership.

Levin wants Afghan post-war plan delayed: In an abrupt change of heart, Senate Armed Services Committee chief Carl Levin is now pressing the White House to delay ratification of an Afghan postwar plan until after the country's presidential election next April.

In a letter sent to President Obama on Wednesday, the Michigan Democrat said the United States would have a better chance at locking in a postwar plan once Afghan President Hamid Karzai leaves office.

"Public demands that [Afghanistan] sign the agreement by the end of the year ... contribute to President Karzai's mistaken belief that the United States needs Afghanistan more than Afghanistan needs the United States," Levin said in the letter.

"The next Afghan president, whoever he is, is also likely to be more reliable than President Karzai, and there would be greater confidence in his sticking with an agreement he has signed," Levin wrote.

The letter comes nearly two months after Levin personally lobbied Karzai to approve the postwar plan as soon as possible.

Frustration with the Karzai government in Washington has mounted in recent weeks, as the Afghan leader and the Obama administration remain at loggerheads over the postwar deal.

A slew of last-minute demands by Karzai has Obama considering a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan next year.

US preps for Syrian disarmament mission: The Pentagon is preparing to send a U.S. ship and a roughly 100-man Defense Department force into Syrian waters to assist the country's chemical disarmament program.

The MV Cape Ray, a civilian transport vessel, is currently at the Navy shipyard in Norfolk, Va., being outfitted with field deployable hydrolysis system technology, which will allow U.S. forces to safely dispose of those chemical stockpiles, according to the Pentagon.

The department has characterized the mission as “a relatively low-risk operation” to collect and contain the tons of hazardous chemicals aboard the Cape May and transport the material to a safe disposal site, according to a senior Pentagon official.

“Absolutely nothing will be dumped at sea," the official added, noting the whole operation is expected to take no longer than three months.

Inspectors from the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have already confiscated or destroyed a majority of Syrian President Bashar Assad's chemical stockpile over the past several months.

Earlier this year, Assad declared his regime owned more than 1,000 metric tons of weaponized chemical agents, including nerve gas, dispersed over 20 sites in the country.

 

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