OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senate wades through defense amendments

As the amendments continued to come to the floor Thursday, Levin and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) were weighing making changes to Feinstein’s amendment restricting military detention for U.S. citizens.

However, it remained unclear whether Levin could reach an agreement with Feinstein and libertarian-leaning Republicans to satisfy their concerns on the detention issue.

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The fight is an extension of the issue that dominated last year’s defense authorization bill debate, when Feinstein and her allies tried unsuccessfully to insert language preventing U.S. citizens from being detained by the military, to which Levin and Republican hawks such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) objected.

Levin told The Hill that Feinstein’s amendment this year was different from her 2011 measure, but he was still seeking a different approach. 

White House threatens veto: The White House on Thursday threatened to veto the defense bill, over objections to the Senate’s changes from the 2013 Pentagon budget plan and a restriction over transferring Guantánamo detainees.

But the veto threat is not as severe as one issued by the White House last year that touched off a month-long fight over the indefinite detention provisions.

The White House objected to the restriction of funds to move detainees out of Guantánamo, as well as the Senate’s blocking of TRICARE fee increases, cuts to the Air National Guard and including upgrades to the M-1 Abrams tank, among other items.

NDAA amendments steadily pass: As the Senate saved the detainee issue for a late-night session, Levin and McCain moved through other less controversial amendments throughout the day Thursday.

The Senate passed amendments with roll-call votes to expand military healthcare coverage for disabilities, to back President Obama’s Afghan withdrawal timeline, to allow biofuel refinery construction and to require Veterans Affairs to submit a plan to reduce its backlog of veterans’ claims.

There were also several dozen amendments agreed to en bloc and by voice vote.

East Coast missile site debate delayed: One amendment that did not get a vote Thursday was on establishing a potential East Coast missile site.

The Senate decided that the amendment from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) would not be taken up on the Senate’s bill because it was already included in the House’s version of the bill.

The provision that passed in the House was widely opposed by Democrats. It was unlikely to have passed the Senate, and now will likely be hashed out in the House-Senate conference committee after the Senate passes the defense bill.

Levin said the East Coast site would be “one of the big issues” on the bill, and the decision to forgo debate in the Senate was likely due to time constraints more than anything else, as it would have been part of the conference negotiations regardless of the outcome.

Eyes on Friday for completion: Levin and McCain say they can finish the defense authorization bill by Friday, and Levin even expressed some optimism that the bill would be done late Thursday evening.

Finishing the bill by Friday would fit within the three-day window that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) gave the Armed Services heads to get the bill done.

Levin told senators Thursday to be ready for a late night Thursday, and for more votes on Friday.

There still remain many contentious issues to wade through on the defense bill, but the bill nearly always passes with wide bipartisan support, so the bill’s final outcome is hardly in doubt.

And of course, the desire to get out of town for the weekend will help bring the bill to its conclusion.

— Ramsey Cox contributed.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

— White House threatens defense bill veto

— Senators seek compromise on detention provisions

— Amendment backs Obama Afghan withdrawal timeline

— Senate passes biofuels amendment

— GAO: US prisons could house Gitmo detainees


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