Senators don’t see big obstacles on Defense bill vote

Leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee don’t see any significant obstacles that would prevent 60 votes on the Defense authorization bill on the heels of Tuesday’s 67-33 budget deal vote.

The Senate plans to vote to end debate on the Defense bill on Wednesday afternoon, after it votes to pass the budget agreement. Both measures cleared the House last week.

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The heads of the Armed Services panel from both parties said it appeared that at least a handful of Republicans would join with Democrats to get to 60 votes, despite Republican anger that their amendments will not be considered.

“I’m optimistic,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told reporters. “My ranking member strongly supports it; I think most Republicans on the committee would, so I’m optimistic there will be a lot of Republican support.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the panel, said he thought he had enough votes within his party.

“This is the only way we’re going to have a bill,” Inhofe said Tuesday. “Do they really want to be the first time in 51 years we don’t have a bill? The answer is no.”

No Democratic senator has suggested a vote against the Defense bill, and at least four Republicans have said publicly they will vote for cloture: Inhofe and Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Roger Wicker (Miss.), all members of the Armed Services panel.

Other Republicans on the panel have declined to say how they will vote on the measure, but only one more would be needed to reach 60 should all Democrats remain on board.

Republicans are expected to force a vote to end debate requiring 60 senators on Wednesday, with the vote on final passage following 30 hours later Thursday evening.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) once again accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday of moving without amendments to duck a vote on Iran sanctions, and other senators also want their amendments considered.

“I’m not going to make it easy for him,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told The Hill, saying he wanted votes on the amendments he has filed to the bill.

But the Republicans on the Armed Services panel say they have to pass the Defense bill, even if they are livid at Reid for forcing them to do it without considering more amendments.

“It’s a disgraceful performance by the majority leader,” said McCain, who has been vocal about supporting the Defense bill but repeatedly bashed Reid for not putting it on the floor sooner.

“If you don’t go along with, you don’t defend the country,” McCain said. “We’ve got to defend the country; that’s our first priority. And the hand that we’re dealt is terrible.”