This week: Defense policy bill, veterans spending top agenda

With the House out for a week-long Veterans Day break, all eyes will be on the Senate as it takes a second stab at an annual defense policy bill.

Senators are expected to vote on a revised National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on Tuesday after the legislation sailed through the House last week by a 370-58 margin.


President Obama vetoed the original $612 billion NDAA largely because of an extra $38 billion in war funding. Lawmakers, however, scrapped plans to try to override the veto after passing a two-year budget that increased defense and nondefense spending.

Instead, senators will vote on the new version of the bill, which includes $5 billion in cuts to match what was approved in the budget.

Among the cuts are $250 million to the Obama administration’s Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, $250 million to Army readiness, $193 million to Army National Guard readiness and $1.082 billion in fuel savings.

But it still includes restrictions on Guantanamo Bay transfers, which the administration opposes. The legislation would ban moving detainees into the United States, as well as releasing them to Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Syria.

While signing the bill would lock in the restrictions until the final days of the Obama administration, the president has also signed previous defense policy bills that restricted his ability to transfer detainees.

The White House has so far stopped short of saying that the president would reject the revised bill. Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainOvernight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal Bipartisan senators reintroduce bill to prevent Trump from withdrawing from NATO Mark Kelly considering Senate bid as Arizona Dems circle McSally MORE (R-Ariz.), who chairs the Armed Services Committee, suggested separately that he didn’t believe Obama would veto the bill for a second time.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “They shouldn’t. It would be a very weak argument because I’ve asked them for a plan [to close Guantanamo] and they haven’t given me a plan.”

Veterans, military construction spending

The Senate will continue its work on a fiscal year 2016 spending bill for veterans' benefits and military construction.

The legislation overcame an initial procedural hurdle last week, with senators voting 93-0 to allow it to move forward. The move effectively ended a months-long Democratic filibuster that logjammed the Senate’s consideration of spending bills.

The vote came after Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSenate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Harry Reid knocks Ocasio-Cortez's tax proposal: Fast 'radical change' doesn't work Overnight Defense: Trump rejects Graham call to end shutdown | Coast Guard on track to miss Tuesday paychecks | Dems eye Trump, Russia probes | Trump talks with Erdogan after making threat to Turkey's economy MORE (D-Nev.) suggested that he and Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellSunday shows preview: Shutdown negotiations continue after White House immigration proposal Senate to take up Trump's border-immigration plan next week Trump pitches new plan to reopen government amid Dem pushback MORE (R-Ky.) were close to a tentative plan for moving forward on an omnibus spending bill. Lawmakers have until mid-December to pass a government-funding bill and avoid a shutdown.

Democrats previously blocked the Department of Veterans Affairs-military construction bill last month. Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump tells GOP senators he’s sticking to Syria and Afghanistan pullout  Texas governor, top lawmakers tell Trump not to use hurricane relief funds to build border wall The Hill's Morning Report — Trump’s attorney general pick passes first test MORE (R-Texas) suggested that it was “ironic” that they were allowing the bill to move forward ahead of Veterans Day.

"A few short days before Veterans Day, they decided to allow us to finally get on a veterans and military construction bill," he said, referring to Democrats.

McConnell said separately that with cooperation the Senate could get the legislation passed this week.

Lawmakers have already filed a handful of amendments to the legislation, including a proposal from Sen. Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (R-Nev.) to block senior VA executives responsible for overseeing disability compensation claims from receiving a bonus.

The Senate will be under a tight timeline to finish its work though, with lawmakers only scheduled to vote on a nomination during an abbreviated Monday session. The Senate is also expected to be out on Wednesday for Veterans Day.