Senate rejects GOP attempt to amend Defense bill

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) tried to open up the Defense bill to amendments, but Democrats and the Senate voted against his motion on Thursday.

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) filed cloture earlier this week on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), he “filled the amendment tree” to prevent any changes to the measure, which passed the House last week.

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Cornyn criticized Reid for “filling the tree” more than 70 times since becoming Majority Leader — far more than leaders before him.

“The Majority Leader is refusing to allow any vote on restoring pension benefits to the men and women in armed services,” Cornyn said of a provision of this week's budget deal cutting $6 billion from military retiree benefits. “Why is it that he’s blocking a vote on a relative amendment?”

The authors of the Defense bill, Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), said although this was not an "ideal" way to pass it, tweaks couldn’t be made to the legislation because the House has already left for the rest of the year.

“Because the House has already left for the year, the only way we’re going to get a Defense bill enacted is passing the bill in front of us,” Levin said. “The bill before us is right for our troops and their families.”

Cornyn said despite the fact that he wouldn’t get any amendments, he would support the bill because it’s too important not to.

On Wednesday, 17 Republicans joined Democrats in voting to end debate on the bill even without amendments, but some Republicans were critical that Reid waited until the end of the year to bring the critical bill to the floor.

“After wasting valuable time ramming through political appointee after political appointee, the majority wants to rush this crucial legislation through without the debate it deserves,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the floor Wednesday.

The NDAA authorizes $526.8 billion in base defense spending and $80.7 billion in funding for the Afghan War. It includes protections for military sexual assault victims and prevents Guantanamo Bay detainees from being transferred to the United States. 

The bill is expected to pass overwhelmingly, but Republicans have insisted on running out the 30-hour clock for debate. If they don’t yield back time, the vote will occur around 10:30 p.m. Thursday.

Usually senators vote on dozens of NDAA amendments before the bill is passed.