Armed Services leaders agree to compromise 2011 defense bill

The Democratic and Republican leaders of the congressional armed services committees have struck an agreement that could allow lawmakers to send a 2011 defense authorization act to the Pentagon.

Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), together with Reps. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) — the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services panels — agreed on a pared-down defense authorization bill devoid of controversial items.

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Among the items the lawmakers ditched are the repeal of the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law and specific authorization for a second F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine — the latter of which was looked upon as veto-bait. Another controversial item not present in the compromise bill is a provision allowing for abortions to be performed in military hospitals.

That tactic would allow for quicker passage of the bill, which is viewed as critical because it sets Pentagon policy, authorizes pay raises and benefits and gives the green light to the start of new defense programs.

“The bill includes a wide range of provisions that will provide the men and women of the armed forces and their families with the pay and benefits they deserve, ensure that they have the training and equipment they need to conduct military operations around the world, improve the management of the Department of Defense and contribute to our national security,” Levin and McCain said in a joint statement on Wednesday evening. “It is our hope that the House and the Senate will move quickly to enact this important legislation before the end of the Congress.”

With a crowded and compressed schedule, the Senate would have to adopt the bill by unanimous consent, meaning that all senators have to agree to it. Also, the House would have to take it up on the suspension calendar, bypassing the usual rules and debate process.

The Senate has failed twice this year to start debating the 2011 defense authorization bill because of Republican opposition to a provision to repeal the ban on openly gay people serving in the military. Congressional supporters of repeal instead resorted to standalone bills in the House and Senate.

The House on Wednesday passed that bill by an overwhelming majority, leaving the fate of repeal in the Senate’s hands.

The House earlier this year also passed its version of the 2011 defense authorization bill.

That bill contained the repeal provision, but now with the compromise version of the bill, that provision is out, gaining the much-needed support for passage from McCain and McKeon.