Senate starts work on Defense bill

The Senate started the procedural process on the Defense authorization bill Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he wants to complete work on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets Pentagon policy, before Thanksgiving even if that means weekend sessions. He filed a motion to end debate on proceeding to the bill — that vote will occur after 30 hours of debate unless an agreement is reached to hold it sooner.

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Floor debate on the Defense authorization bill is typically a lengthy process, with hundreds of amendments offered and dozens receiving votes. But in the end the bill is expected to pass — Congress has passed the NDAA for 51 straight years.

Senators are expected to offer amendments to the NDAA on issues including restrictions on transferring Guantánamo detainees, military sexual assault, the Afghanistan War, the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs and Syria.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has asked lawmakers to leave the NSA for another day and said he hopes lawmakers offer only germane amendments.

But Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has vowed to offer his bill, the Show Your Exemption Act, as an amendment. Vitter’s bill would force members of Congress to disclose which of their staff they have exempted from enrolling in the ObamaCare health exchange.

Vitter’s insistence on another measure he called the No Washington Exemption Act, caused Reid to pull an energy efficiently bill from the floor earlier this year. Vitter has argued that no congressional staffers of members of the administration should be exempt from entering the ObamaCare health exchange.

Reid also filed a cloture motion on the nomination of Robert Leon Wilkins to be a D.C. Circuit judge. Republicans have blocked two of President Obama’s other nominees for that court and forced one nominee to withdraw her name from consideration.

Republicans have argued that no more judges are needed on that court because of lower caseloads, but Democrats have threatened to change Senate rules if Republicans continue to block Obama’s nominees.