Deal reached on DOD authorization bill

Lawmakers reached an agreement Monday on the $662 billion Defense authorization bill they believe will satisfy White House demands to avoid a veto over the detention of terror suspects.

House and Senate Armed Services Committee leaders changed the bill to add a provision saying that FBI and other law enforcement’s national security authority would not be affected by provisions mandating military custody of terror suspects.

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A White House veto threat has been hanging over the Pentagon policy bill for the past month, but House and Senate Armed Services Committee leaders said Monday the new language would address the Obama administration’s biggest concerns with the mandatory military detention of terror suspects.

The clause is similar to the one added to the Senate bill that addressed concerns among Senate Democrats about U.S. citizens being detained indefinitely without changing the bill’s core language.

 “I can’t imagine that the president would veto would veto this bill,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who has said that the bill would not have hampered law enforcement like the administration claimed. “I very strongly believe this should satisfy the administration, and hope it will.”

The legislation also changed the waiver provision, which allows the executive branch to move suspects from military to civilian custody, so that the president can issue a waiver, rather than the defense secretary. Levin said this was done at the request of President Obama, who spoke with Levin last week about the bill.

Senate Armed Services Ranking Member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he hoped “the administration will not be swayed by political considerations or election year considerations coming up.”

The White House did not immediately comment after the conference committee finalized the bill Monday evening.

After the conference report was completed Monday, Levin said he did not know whether the votes were there to override a veto. He said he had not received assurances from the White House it would not veto the final bill.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said the bill will be sent to the Rules Committee Monday evening, and would likely receive a House vote Wednesday. The Senate expects to vote on the bill sometime later this week.

The Defense authorization bill, which sets policy and spending priorities for the Pentagon, is generally considered must-pass legislation, and it has passed for 50 years straight.

The conference committee also tweaked Iran central bank sanctions at the administration’s request, though the bulk of the amendment from Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) remained in the final bill.

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The bill still restricts the transfer of Guantanamo detainees for one year, another provision the administration had objected to.

The legislation also froze $700 million in aid to Pakistan until more help is offered from the country stopping IEDs from being produced.

Both the House and Senate bills had provisions elevating the National Guard Chief to become a permanent member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but the Pentagon and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs opposed the measure. Some thought the measure would get stripped from the final conference report.

After the final deal was announced, McCain, who has not been supportive of elevating the Guard chief, only needed two words to say what happened.

“They won,” McCain said.