Senate

Dems let defense bill advance despite Obama veto threat

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Legislation that would set the nation’s defense policy overcame a procedural hurdle in the Senate on Tuesday despite a veto threat from the White House. 

Senators voted 73-26 to end debate on the $612 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

{mosads}Twenty-one Democrats broke ranks on the vote, siding with Republicans to let the bill advance. Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), who is running for president, was the only Republican to vote no. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another White House hopeful, missed the vote.

The legislation is expected to pass by Thursday, which would send it to President Obama’s desk.

Republicans and the Obama administration are at odds over an extra $38 billion in war funding in the bill.

The money would not be subject to congressional budget caps, allowing Republicans to increase spending for the military while keeping the rest of the government under strict limits.

Democrats are demanding a repeal of all spending caps and have joined with Obama in rejecting all of the GOP’s appropriations bills until a deal is reached.

While a bloc of Democrats voted to advance the defense bill Tuesday, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) warned that some of those members would likely flip their votes if Republicans tried to override Obama’s promised veto.

“Our Democrats have stated without question if it comes time that we sustain a presidential veto, that will be done,” Reid said.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sought to pressure Democrats ahead of the vote, noting the 84-14 outcome during a similar procedural action earlier this year.

“The last time the Senate considered this legislation, 84 senators — including a large majority of Democrats — voted to advance it. That was just this summer,” McConnell said. “I urge Democrats to vote the same way now. Because we’ve heard some worrying rhetoric from across the aisle.”

Democrats remained tightlipped ahead of Tuesday’s vote on whether they would try to block the legislation from moving forward. A Senate aide told The Hill late last week that the focus was on preventing the legislation from getting the 67 votes needed to override a veto. 

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, warned Democrats against blocking the NDAA.

“If they want to sustain the veto, they’re responsible for the events that take place in the world, including [putting] the lives of the men and women serving in the military in much greater danger,” he said. “That will be their responsibility.”

Obama has threatened to veto every NDAA since he took office but never actually done so.

The administration says this year will be different because of the fight over war funding and the budget caps.

Should Obama reject the legislation, it would be the fifth veto of his presidency.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) suggested that the legislative scuffle over the NDAA is “part of the negotiations.”  

“Basically the president is negotiating, and if he vetoes this bill as he’s promised, we hope that he can sustain his veto to let the Republicans know we’re very serious about this,” he said. “If we’re going to have a good authorization bill completed, we need to have the [war fund] provisions out.”

While the president is under pressure from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and top advisers to veto the defense bill, rejecting the legislation could prove controversial.

The National Defense Authorization Act has passed Congress for 53 consecutive years, with lawmakers considering it a vital piece of legislation that sets priorities and policy for the military, including benefits and pay for service members.

Over the weekend, The Washington Post weighed in on the fight in an editorial, saying Obama should sign it.

“Refusing to sign this bill would make history, but not in a good way. Mr. Obama should let it become law and seek other sources of leverage in pursuing his legitimate goals for domestic sequestration relief,” the Post said. 

The Democrats who voted Tuesday to advance the defense bill were Sens. -Michael -Bennet (Colo.), -Richard -Blumenthal (Conn.), -Maria -Cantwell (Wash.), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), -Dianne -Feinstein (Calif.), -Martin -Heinrich (N.M.), Tim Kaine (Va.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), -Chris -Murphy (Conn.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Gary -Peters (Mich.), Jeanne -Shaheen (N.H.),- Debbie -Stabenow (Mich.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tom Udall (N.M.) and Mark Warner (Va.). Independent Sen. Angus King (Maine), who caucuses with Democrats, also voted to proceed.

— This story was last updated at 7:43 p.m. 

Tags Amy Klobuchar Angus King Bob Casey Bob Menendez Claire McCaskill Dick Durbin Harry Reid Joe Donnelly John McCain Jon Tester Marco Rubio Mark Warner Mitch McConnell Patty Murray Rand Paul Tim Kaine Tom Udall

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