Levin: Defense bill may fall off schedule if procedural vote fails

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said the defense authorization bill may not win approval this year if it does not pass a key procedural hurdle on Tuesday.

Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.), the leading Democrat on military affairs, on Monday warned that failure to secure enough votes on Tuesday’s motion to proceed would be “a real setback” for the 2011 defense authorization bill.

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He said the legislation could still move after the election, but that any lame-duck session would be unpredictable.

“I can’t predict what will happen in the lame-duck,” Levin said. Those who make predictions have “a lot more courage than I do,” he added. 


Democrats need 60 votes to proceed to the bill, but the outcome is in doubt because the legislation includes language repealing the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military.

Democratic leaders also plan to include an immigration-related provision known as the DREAM Act that would give a pathway to citizenship to children of illegal immigrants who attend a U.S. college for two years or join the military.

Levin, who will manage the defense authorization bill on the Senate floor this week, said he did not know whether there are 60 votes to cut off debate on the so-called motion to proceed to the defense bill.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the leading Republican on military issues, opposes repealing the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law banning gays from serving openly in the military, and also argues the DREAM Act should not be added to the defense bill.

One Republican, Susan Collins (Maine), voted in favor of the repeal provision during the armed services panel’s deliberations earlier this year, but it is yet unclear whether they will vote the same way on the floor.

It’s unclear if all Democrats will vote to proceed. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), for example, voted against the provision to repeal the military’s ban.

Levin on Monday refuted the GOP's case that the immigration provision doesn't have a place on the defense authorization bill. He said the rules of the Senate permit that amendment to be offered.

“People use the rules here [in the Senate],” Levin said at a news conference. “People have the right to use the rules.”

Levin added that the debate should focus on the merits of repealing “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and of approving the DREAM Act rather than on procedure.

Levin said that the DREAM Act is likely to be the first amendment debated as part of the defense bill. The defense authorization bill, which includes many critical military policies including authority for pay raises, is considered a must-pass bill. It's been passed by Congress for 48 consecutive years.

—This story was updated at 5:06 p.m.