By Carlo Muñoz and Jeremy Herb - 12/11/13 06:34 PM EST
The Topline: Step 1 of the House-Senate two-step to complete the Defense authorization bill could be wrapped up as early as Thursday.
The House could vote on the Defense bill on Thursday, according to multiple House aides; if not, they will do it on Friday, before the lower chamber adjourns for the year.
Aides said they expect the measure will be taken up under a suspension process that allows the House to quickly consider bills considered noncontroversial and requires a two-thirds majority.
It’s a different story in the Senate, however, where multiple Republicans have slammed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for wanting to push the bill through without any more amendment votes.
Republicans had filibustered the bill before Thanksgiving when it was on the Senate floor over a dispute about getting amendment votes, and now Armed Services leaders say there isn’t time to consider any amendments with the House adjourning on Friday.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and his House counterpart, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), argue that Defense authorization bill, which has been enacted for 51 straight years, must pass this year.
It will get drowned out in the crowded legislative calendar next year, they say, and there are several provisions like special pay and bonuses for troops that expire at the end of the year.
The Senate is expected to take up the Defense bill next week. It will be subject to amendments — unlike a formal conference report — meaning any senator could object if Reid moves to pass the bill, prompting a cloture vote.
NDAA will not delay combat pay: American service members deployed to war zones around the world will not lose their combat pay, should lawmakers fail to pass a defense spending legislation this year.
Defense Department spokesman Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday that combat and hazard pay for U.S. forces overseas will continue with or without a Pentagon budget bill.
Furor on Capitol Hill over possible pay cuts for front-line troops was prompted by a letter from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey to congressional leaders earlier this month.
In the Dec. 9 missive, Dempsey noted that "military special pays and bonuses" would cease by the end of the year if Congress did not approve a final version of the department's fiscal 2014 spending package.
However, Warren told reporters at the Pentagon that combat and hazard pay did not fall under that rubric laid out by Dempsey to lawmakers and was not tied to the passage of the FY14 budget.
House and Senate defense lawmakers are looking to push through a compromise version of the spending plan unveiled on Monday.
Defense legislators there are looking to head off Republican opposition to bypassing amendments to the Pentagon budget plan and fast-track the legislation to President Obama's desk by the end of the year.
Veterans groups angry over budget deal: Veterans groups are not pleased that military retirement benefits were included in the budget deal announced Tuesday.
The Military Coalition, a group of 33 uniformed services and veterans organizations, sent a letter to the Pentagon, White House and House and Senate leaders expressing their anger with the deal.
The budget deal to reverse $63 billion in sequester cuts over two years offset the spending increases in part by including $6 billion in savings through military retirement benefits.
The deal would lower the cost-of-living increase by 1 percent below inflation in the military retirement accounts of those under 62, which will be phased in fully by 2016.
The groups are angry that they wound up footing the bill for the sequester, and they are trying to mobilize their members against it.
“This radical proposal basically kills the grandfather-concern addressed by both Congress and the administration and actually eliminates the appropriate review process failing to consider long-term readiness and retention outcomes in order to meet an arbitrary deadline so that Congress can go home for the holidays,” the organizations write in a draft version of the letter.
US begins Africa support mission: A pair of Air Force C-17 cargo planes accompanied by a small team of U.S. airmen are heading into the war-torn Central African Republic (CAR) to support international peacekeeping operations there.
The aircraft, attached to Central Command, are currently on station in Uganda but are expected to be on the ground in Burundi by Thursday, according to the Defense Department.
Aside from the U.S. aircraft, an Air Force team is already on the ground in Burundi, tasked with coordinating logistics and transport for roughly 800 Burundian troops headed to the CAR.
Another American military team is already on the ground there, assisting French and African Union forces in securing the main airfield in the country's capitol of Bangui, according to a Pentagon official.
Those American and Burundian troops will join the nearly 1,000 French troops on the ground as part of the international peacekeeping force sent to the African country earlier this month.
Two French soldiers were killed on Tuesday while conducting security and stability missions in the CAR.
Administration officials have set aside nearly $60 million for the U.S. airlift mission to the CAR, which is expected to last roughly a week.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed U.S. commanders to assist in the operation after speaking Monday with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
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