Senate approves wide-ranging defense policy bill

Greg Nash

The Senate overwhelmingly passed a wide-ranging defense policy bill Tuesday despite an eleventh-hour floor fight. 

Senators voted 85-13 on the $602 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which broadly lays out policy and spending rules for the Pentagon and the military branches. 

{mosads}Voting against the legislation were GOP Sens. Mike Crapo (Idaho), Ted Cruz (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), Jim Risch (Idaho), and Ben Sasse (Neb.), as well as Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Ed Markey (Mass.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Ron Wyden (Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.).

Tuesday’s vote came after a last-minute scuffle on the Senate floor as lawmakers were repeatedly blocked from scheduling votes on their amendments.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) blasted senators ahead of the vote, suggesting some were taking a “their way or the highway” approach.

“As happy as I am about the size of the vote, we left out some very important amendments,” McCain added after the Senate approved the bill he spearheaded. “When we take up a bill of this significance, not every senator can have his or her way.”

Gillibrand has been trying for years to change how the military prosecutes sexual assault cases. Her proposal would have required an independent military prosecutor, instead of a military commander, to decide whether sexual assaults or other serious crimes should be prosecuted.

The New York Democrat said after the vote that she was “deeply upset” the Senate wrapped up the defense bill without debating military sexual assault or her proposal. 
“Given this abject failure on behalf of Congress, I will again call on President Obama, the Commander of Chief, to fulfill his responsibility to service members and take action to give them a system of justice worthy of their sacrifice,” she added in a statement. 

The amendment process on the bill largely came to a halt late last week, with both McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blaming Lee for refusing to let any other amendment get a vote unless he got a separate vote on his proposal to ban detaining U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.

Graham said he offered Lee a deal that would have allowed the Utah Republican a vote if an Export-Import Bank measure was also brought up, but Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) shot that down.

“There’s a lot of serious business … that can’t move forward because individuals have decided if I don’t get everything I want, nobody is going to get anything,” Graham said Tuesday.

Senators were able to squeak through a deal on the use of Russian rocket engines for space launches, after lawmakers exchanged rhetorical barbs for months. The agreement included in the NDAA allows the Pentagon to use Russian-made engines through 2022. 

The annual bill still has to overcome a number of hurdles before it gets signed into law.

The White House is threatening to veto the Senate version over several of its policy provisions, including restrictions on Guantanamo Bay detainee transfers and a cap on the size of the White House National Security Council staff.

The House also passed its version of the NDAA last month. Lawmakers will now need to merge their two competing proposals during a conference committee.

The House bill adds $18 billion in defense spending, but the Senate rejected a similar proposal after Democrats and some Republicans balked at breaking a current two-year budget deal.

Lawmakers will also need to decide whether women will be required to register for the draft. The provision stayed in the Senate bill despite pushback from conservative lawmakers who had pledged to try to remove it.

Opponents argue the shift in social policy needs more debate rather than being added to the mammoth defense bill.

Heritage Action urged senators to vote against the overall defense bill because of the requirement that women register for the selective service. The conservative outside group is including the NDAA as a “key vote” on its legislative scorecard.

“Regardless of whatever merits the bill may have, it deserves to be defeated because lawmakers should not force young women into military services through the Selective Service,” the group said in a release.

Tags Ed Markey Elizabeth Warren Harry Reid Jeff Merkley Jim Risch John McCain Kirsten Gillibrand Lindsey Graham Mike Crapo Mike Lee Patrick Leahy Rand Paul Ron Wyden Ted Cruz

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