House caps year with $607B defense bill

In its last roll-call vote of the year, the House on Thursday easily passed a $607 billion defense bill from House and Senate negotiators.

Members voted 350-69 for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), sending it to the Senate to consider next week. The "no" votes came from 19 Republicans and 50 Democrats.

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The bill was put together just days ago after it became clear that the Senate would not be able to move quickly enough to pass its own version. The Senate had become hung up on requests to consider dozens of amendments on issues, including sexual assault in the military, Iran and ObamaCare.

The final version bypasses the normal process of considering amendments in the Senate, followed by a House-Senate conference committee. But members of both parties urged support for the bill.

"This legislation pays our troops and their families," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.). "It keeps our Navy fleet sailing and military aircraft flying. It maintains a strong nuclear deterrent."

"It is critical to national security and critical to supporting our troops," ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) agreed. "To not pass this at this point is to jeopardize national security and to not support our troops."

House and Senate Armed Services leaders have urged Congress to pass the bill — which has been signed into law 51 years in a row — before the end of the year.

There is resistance among some Senate Republicans over proceeding on the bill without amendments, however — including from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

McConnell has accused Reid of trying to duck a vote on tougher Iran sanctions, and Republicans say they're concerned Reid will not give them one with a standalone bill.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who wants to vote on Pentagon audits, has also said he might block the bill if no amendments can be offered.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) argued that the Defense bill must be passed this year, warning that important provisions, like special pay bonuses for troops, expire on Dec. 31.

Inhofe acknowledged Thursday that some of his colleague will opposed the bill over the amendment process, but he predicted half of Senate Republicans will ultimately support moving forward.

“The defense bill is different than all other bills,” Inhofe said. “It’s the one bill that you have to have to give the recourses to our kids who are out fighting battles, and so it has to be treated differently. That has to have priority over process.”

Several other Armed Services Republicans have also indicated they plan to support the Defense bill, even if they are upset about not getting to consider amendments.

“It’s disgraceful, this whole situation,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has blasted Reid’s handling of the bill but will support moving forward with it.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) also said she would be supporting the Defense bill when it’s on the floor next week.

The bill authorizes $607 billion in spending for the Department of Defense: $526.8 billion in base spending, and $80.7 billion on war funding for Afghanistan.

This year, many members focused on the need to improve the handling of sexual assault cases in the military, after reports that the number of these cases has increased. The final bill does not include language taking these cases out of the chain of normal military command, as some amendments demanded. However, it does prevent commanders from overturning guilty verdicts.

The measure also requires mandatory discharges for people found guilty of the assaults, and adds new victim protections during the pre-trial process.

On Guantánamo detainees, the bill prohibits a transfer of these prisoners to the United States, but eases restrictions on transfers to other overseas destinations.