Thune still pushing BRAC delay

The junior senator from South Dakota is not one to give up, but John Thune (R) may be running out of options on high-profile legislation he is pushing.

Thune, who emerged victorious in a bitter fight to save Ellsworth Air Force Base from the Pentagon’s chopping block, still wants the 2005 base realignment and closure (BRAC) round to be delayed.

But Thune probably will not be able to offer the amendment he introduced earlier this summer for the defense authorization bill.

The authorization measure has not received floor time in the Senate, after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) pulled it from the floor before the August recess. The reason: It contained provisions that the Bush administration threatened to veto — Thune’s delay of BRAC until certain Pentagon strategic reviews are completed and troops return from combat and two amendments introduced by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that deal with the treatment of military detainees. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-Va.) has been working with leadership for the past month to bring the bill back onto the floor. Now he is negotiating the number of amendments that could be attached to it.

Warner and Frist have negotiated down to 12 amendments that will make it to the floor, according to a GOP aide. Thune submitted his amendment to be considered among them, but it is not likely to be part of the package.

At least one of the contentious amendments introduced by McCain is likely to make it onto the list. McCain’s amendment to standardize the interrogation procedures of military detainees, stipulating that interrogators could only use techniques listed in the Army’s Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation, has Warner’s support.

McCain also proposed another change that would expressly prohibit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of those in U.S. custody. Both Warner and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Personnel Subcommittee on the Armed Services Committee, support that amendment.

A spokesperson for McCain said that the senator submitted the two amendments that deal with the treatment of detainees but has not received an answer yet on whether leadership will clear either of those. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Warner, declined to describe the nature of the negotiations.

Even though time is running out, Thune said he is not throwing in the towel.

“I support what the amendment strives to accomplish whether or not it is included in the floor debate. The logic behind it is still correct,” Thune told The Hill.

“I am keeping all my options open,” Thune added. And that means the possibility of attaching the amendment to the pending defense appropriations bill.

McCain has already threatened to attach his amendments on detainee treatment to the appropriations bill if authorization does not make it to the floor.

Senate appropriators have delayed considering the defense bill until authorization cleared the floor in part because of amendments that would migrate onto the appropriations bill, thus lengthening the floor action.

With the fiscal year coming to an end tomorrow and the fear that the Pentagon is running out of money for its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Senate appropriators now are charging through the defense bill.

The Defense Appropriations Subcommittee marked up the bill Monday, and the full committee considered it yesterday.

Frist said yesterday that the defense appropriations bill is going to the floor as early as today, after the Senate finishes voting on the nomination of John Roberts as the next chief justice of the United States.

But with Frist moving slowly on the decision to bring the defense authorization bill back up, authorizers have been considering the idea of attaching the bill as an amendment to the defense-spending bill. This is an idea that Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the Armed Services Committee, was considering last week.

According to the GOP aide, the authorization bill is going to be considered after the appropriations bill, but no timeline has been set.

The co-sponsors of Thune’s bill have not backed off the amendment either, the aide said, adding, “Nobody has pulled off the bill, at least not in principle.”

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, signed on to Thune’s bill, even though he recognized “that the possibility of delaying BRAC was most likely not going to happen,” a spokesperson for the senator said.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) who won against the Pentagon’s decision to shutter the New London Submarine Base, as well as Maine Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are among the sponsor of the bill. Maine had mixed results in this round of BRAC, with Portsmouth Naval Shipyard staying open but the New Brunswick Naval Air Station closing.

Bush approved the independent Base Closure and Realignment Commission’s recommendations Sept. 8 and has sent the list to Congress, starting a 45-day period for Congress to approve the list or pass a joint resolution to disapproving it.