House: Still ways to pass Defense bill

House Armed Services Committee leaders on Thursday urged the Senate to quickly pass the Defense authorization bill as they said the bill could still get signed into law this year.

In a joint statement, House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said that “time is running short” to finish the Pentagon policy bill, which has been passed by Congress for 51 straight years.

But the House leaders also said that the bill could still get done, even if the Senate does not pass the measure until December.

The House statement did not hold out the possibility that the Senate might pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) this week, as a vote to end debate on the bill scheduled for Thursday afternoon is expected to fail.

“There are still pathways to passage for this vital bill,” McKeon and Smith said. “We urge the Senate to resume NDAA consideration as soon as they return from their Thanksgiving recess. Our colleagues in the Senate should remember their obligation to our troops and continue to work towards final passage."

When the Senate returns from its two-week recess in December, the House and Senate will only have one week in session together before the House is scheduled to adjourn.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has warned that isn’t enough time to pass the bill in the Senate, get a conference report worked out and pass the final bill in both chambers.

House committee aides also acknowledge it would be nearly impossible to do through regular order.

But there are other ways for Congress to get the bill done, although the bill wouldn’t be likely to take on controversial issues as a result.

One potential “plan B” is a process known as “ping-pong,” where the House and Senate committees would convene an informal conference committee to iron out differences in the bill.

When an agreement was reached, the House could introduce the conference report as a new bill, pass it and send it to the Senate, or the Senate could strike its full bill and insert the new language as an amendment.

Such a procedure would require unanimous consent from the Senate, which remains a dicey prospect.

The committees also weighed the move last year as a contingency option before the Senate took up the Defense bill in December.