OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senate passes defense bill 98-0

Levin said the Senate passed 145 amendments to the bill when all was said and done, most of them through voice vote and en bloc.

At their post-passage press conference, both Levin and McCain said the defense authorization bill could be used as a model for the Senate functioning properly with an open amendment process — an issue that’s become politically charged as Reid considers filibuster rules changes.

Now the authorization bill will move to conference committee with the House, where the two staffs have already started hammering out details for the final bill.

There’s also the issue of the White House veto threat, which neither party thinks is insurmountable but will require some more negotiations before the law is signed by the president.

Plenty of fights for conference committee: Lawmakers from both chambers expect the conference committee to quickly get under way, as time is limited in the lame-duck session.

There are still plenty of contentious issues to get worked out, although neither Levin nor McCain said Tuesday they expected it could derail the bill.

The first task is the overall size of the bill, as the House has a bill that’s $3 billion bigger than the Senate.

The House also has passed a number of policy provisions likely to find opposition in the Senate. One key one — Pentagon biofuels — was taken up this week, as the Senate reversed restrictions on the military purchasing biofuels.

The Senate decided to wait to debate a third East Coast missile site, which had $100 million in funding in the House bill and will run into opposition from the upper chamber.

The House also had passed amendments on military social policy, including a ban on same-sex weddings performed on military bases and a provision that says military chaplains can’t be punished for opposing same-sex marriage.

Provisions on military detention will also be a key topic, as the Senate passed two contentious amendments, including a “permanent” ban on transferring detainees from Guantánamo Bay.

While the House and Senate agreed on many of the differences with the Obama administration over weapons systems and cuts to the Air Guard, there is one difference they still must resolve: the Global Hawk Block 30 drone.

The Pentagon wants to mothball the drones, and the House restored funding for them, while the Senate did not.

Patriot games: The Turkish government on Tuesday got a little more firepower, courtesy of NATO, to defend against Syria's civil war bleeding across its borders. 

NATO officials approved Ankara's request to deploy a number of U.S.-built Patriot missile defense systems along the country's border region with Syria. Turkey requested the missile systems back in October, after it gave its military forces the green light to attack Syrian troops that happen to cross over into the country. 

Despite the deal, the missile systems do not represent a NATO or U.S. effort to establish a no-fly zone along the Turkey-Syria border, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told The Hill on Tuesday. The Patriot missile systems alliance members agreed to provide Ankara "in and of themselves" did not constitute a de facto no-fly zone, Levin told reporters 

That said, the Michigan Democrat noted that any decision to establish a formal no-fly zone backed by NATO missiles or American warplanes is still up for debate. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who backed the NATO deal, added that the creation of a legitimate no-fly zone along the Turkey-Syria border could be key to ending the more than yearlong civil war between Syrian rebels and embattled President Bashar Assad. 

Droning on: Washington and Iran exchanged claims and counterclaims over the fate of a U.S. unmanned drone, caught conducting intelligence operations near the Gulf state. 

On Tuesday, Tehran claimed it had captured a Navy ScanEagle drone after Iranian naval forces detected the aircraft had crossed into the country's sovereign airspace. 

Senior leaders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps claimed they had commandeered the drone and it was now in Iran's possession, according to reports by the state-run FARS news agency. 

Hours later, Navy officials dismissed Iran's claims, stating that all the ScanEagles attached to 5th Fleet — the service's main command in the Mideast — were accounted for. 

Navy Cmdr. Jason Salata suggested the drone Iran claimed to have captured might not have belonged to the United States. U.S. forces "have employed the ScanEagle in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Horn of Africa and in other theaters," Salata told The Hill on Tuesday. 

"The U.S. is not the only operator of the ScanEagle system," he added. 


Senate votes for report on Syria military options

— Senate passes ‘Stolen Valor’ rewrite

— Turkey’s Patriot missiles don’t equal no-fly zone

— Terror attacks up, fatalities down, report says

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