By Carlo Muñoz and Jeremy Herb - 12/10/13 06:39 PM EST
The Topline: The plan from defense lawmakers to quickly pass a Defense authorization bill in the House and Senate is running into resistance from Senate Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) criticized Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for not bringing the Defense bill up this week and preventing additional amendments from being considered.
“This is a rather transparent attempt to prevent a vote on an enhanced Iran sanctions,” McConnell said. “So they’re trying to circumvent the Senate to pass major legislation, essentially without amendments.”
McConnell stopped short of saying he would try to block the bill, and so far only Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has suggested he would do so over the amendments dispute.
But even the Republicans who most strongly support the $607 billion Defense bill say the anger from Republicans is warranted.
“No amendments is pretty unreasonable,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said he wants to move forward on the bill, slammed Reid for waiting until the last minute to bring up the Defense bill when it passed in June.
“There are people who have objections because of the majority leader of the Senate, his mismanagement of the Senate that did not allow us to bring up the Defense authorization after it came out of the committee in June,” McCain said.
It’s still not clear whether the resistance from GOP senators will actually stop the bill from going forward when the Senate takes it up, likely next week.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) say the situation is not ideal, but argue it’s the only way to get a bill done this year.
They warn that there are dangerous consequences if the bill isn’t done by the end of the year, like the loss of combat pay for troops.
But in a sign of the GOP argument should they try to stop the bill, Graham said that issue could be resolved.
“There are things like bonuses and combat pay that can be retroactively applied,” Graham said.
More optimism on the House side: Republican Armed Services leaders in the House say they don’t expect any problems on their side of the Capitol when it comes to passing the Defense bill.
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the committee’s vice chairman, said he expected the bill would get done in the House before the end of the week, when the lower chamber is expected to adjourn for the year.
“I think it’ll be filed, I think we’ll vote on it, I think it’ll pass,” Thornberry told reporters.
While there’s been talk of getting Iran sanctions into the bill on the Senate side, Thornberry said he didn’t expect that would be raised in the House, where the bill can be taken up without amendments under multiple parliamentary procedures.
“That is such a big issue, we probably ought to deal with it separately,” he said.
House aides say they expect the bill will get a vote later this week, either Thursday or Friday.
Karzai 'playing with fire' on postwar talks: Washington's top diplomat in Afghanistan told Congress that President Hamid Karzai is playing a dangerous game in stonewalling a postwar pact, reiterating the Obama administration remains willing to pull all forces out of the country next year.
In ongoing negotiations with State Department and Pentagon officials, the Afghan leader continues to express "complete disinterest" in what size a possible U.S. postwar force would be, James Dobbins, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan ambassador, told lawmakers on Tuesday.
That disinterest, according to Dobbins, is part of a power play by the Karzai government to set the terms of the postwar deal, driven by the belief the United States cannot afford a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But Karzai "is playing with fire" should the the defiant Afghan president attempt to call Washington's bluff on a complete pull-out, known inside the White House as the "zero option," Dobbins told members of the Senate Foreign Relations panel.
During the hearing, committee chief Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) pressed Dobbins on whether after 12 years of war, the United States had hit a "breaking point" in Afghanistan where a zero option would make sense.
"Is there a point where walking away" from Afghanistan would be better than pushing for a postwar deal? "I personally do not think so," Dobbins told Menendez.
Afghanistan, Iran reach security pact: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has inked a security pact with Iran, setting the stage for long-term security, economic and political cooperation between Kabul and Tehran.
The Afghan-Iran deal represents a "long-term friendship and cooperation pact" with Iran that "will be for long-term political, security, economic and cultural cooperation, regional peace," according to Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi.
The pact, however, will have no effect on ongoing postwar talks with Washington, a top U.S. diplomat told Congress.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani again blasted Afghanistan's pending deal with the United States.
“We are concerned about tension arising out of the presence of foreign forces in the region, believing that all foreign forces should get out of the region and the task of guaranteeing Afghan security should be entrusted to the country’s people,” Rouhani told Iranian state-run news agency IRNA.
"At this point I would not attach a lot of importance to it," Ambassador James Dobbins, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told the Senate Foreign Relations panel.
On Tuesday, Dobbins told committee members Iran's opposition to a U.S. postwar force did not align with the rest of Afghanistan's regional partners.
Outside of Tehran, "there is a quite a remarkable ... consensus" from regional powers for American troops to remain in Afghanistan after 2014, Dobbins said. That said, "I'm not getting to excited about" the Afghan-Iran pact, he added.
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