Senate poised to pass Defense bill

The Senate is poised to pass the Defense authorization bill despite Republican anger toward Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) over blocking amendment votes.

At least six Republicans say they will vote to end debate on the measure, clearing the way for the Defense bill to reach 60 votes and be sent to President Obama’s desk this week.

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Republican Sens. James Inhofe (Okla.), John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) all say they will vote for cloture when the bill comes up on the floor Wednesday.

No Democrats have indicated they wouldn’t support the cloture vote.

It's not surprising that the Defense bill would attract enough support; it's been passed for 51 straight years, usually by overwhelming margins.

The bill's fate was in some doubt in the post-nuclear option Senate, however. Republicans have slammed Reid for jamming the Defense bill through without amendments this week, after a dispute over amendment votes stalled the measure before the Thanksgiving recess. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Reid of trying to help the Obama administration duck an Iran sanctions vote.

But Senate Republican leaders don’t expect their members to ultimately block the Pentagon policy bill.

“It’ll pass,” Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told The Hill Tuesday. Cornyn said he would vote against cloture because Reid’s blocking of amendments was “outrageous.”

Graham had also threatened to vote against cloture on the Defense bill because he wanted a vote on tougher Iran sanctions, but he said Tuesday he now felt optimistic enough that the Senate would vote on sanctions.

“I’m optimistic enough not to be demanding,” Graham told The Hill. “I don’t want to be demanding at a time when I think we can get what we need without being demanding.”

Leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee have pushed their colleagues to quickly pass the $607 billion Defense bill, even though they had to bypass regular order to get it done this year.

House and Senate panel leaders unveiled the compromise measure last week, which they said could not be amended because the House was adjourning four days later. The House passed the Defense bill in its final vote of the year.

As a result, the Senate did not get a chance for amendment votes on Iran sanctions, military sexual assaults and a number of other issues, much to the chagrin of Republicans already angry with Reid over changing the filibuster rules.

“It’s a disgraceful performance by the majority leader,” McCain said Tuesday.

McCain and Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services panel, have lobbied their GOP colleagues to back the bill despite the anger toward Reid.

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

The Senate is expected to hold a cloture vote on the Defense bill Wednesday afternoon, after it votes to pass the budget deal. A final Defense bill vote would likely occur 30 hours later on Thursday evening.