Senate GOP blocks defense bill, throwing it into limbo

Senate Republicans on Monday blocked a mammoth defense policy bill, throwing the legislation into limbo as Congress heads into a packed year-end schedule.

The Senate voted 45-51 to start winding down debate on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets spending levels and policy for the Pentagon. But that is short of the 60 votes needed to overcome the hurdle.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsMcConnell: I'm going to give Biden's Supreme Court nominee 'a fair look' The Hill's Morning Report - Who will replace Justice Breyer? Senate set for muted battle over Breyer successor MORE (Maine) was the only Republican to vote with Democrats to advance the bill, while Democratic Sens. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyBiden comments add momentum to spending bill's climate measures  Overnight Energy & Environment — Starting from 'scratch' on climate, spending bill Overnight Health Care — White House boosts mask availability MORE (Mass.), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyDemocrats press cryptomining companies on energy consumption Democrats say change to filibuster just a matter of time Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (Ore.), Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDemocrats press cryptomining companies on energy consumption Ocasio-Cortez: Supporting Sinema challenge by someone like Gallego would be easy decision Over 80 lawmakers urge Biden to release memo outlining his authority on student debt cancellation MORE (Mass.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenTop Biden official says information classification system undermines national security, public trust Senate Democrats urge Biden to get beefed-up child tax credit into spending deal Overnight Energy & Environment — High court will hear case on water rule MORE (Ore.) and Independent Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersMcConnell warns Biden not to 'outsource' Supreme Court pick to 'radical left' Briahna Joy Gray discusses Pelosi's 2022 re-election announcement Ocasio-Cortez: Supporting Sinema challenge by someone like Gallego would be easy decision MORE (Vt.) voted against moving forward along with 46 GOP senators.

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The setback comes amid a stalemate on allowing votes on amendments to the bill. Leadership previously got a deal before the Thanksgiving recess to allow for 18 amendment votes, but that agreement was blocked by several Republicans who didn’t get their own proposals included. 

Democrats are leaving the door open to trying to move the bill again. Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBreyer retirement throws curveball into midterms Schumer vows to vote on Biden Supreme Court pick with 'all deliberate speed' Voting rights failed in the Senate — where do we go from here? MORE (D-N.Y.) took steps on Monday night to make it easier to force the vote for a second time.

“Republicans just blocked legislation to support our troops, support our families, keep Americans safe. Republican dysfunction has again derailed bipartisan progress,” Schumer said from the Senate floor, calling the GOP stance “inexplicable and outrageous.”

“Despite this vote, Democrats will continue to work to make sure our troops get paid and our vital defense programs can continue,” Schumer added.

But Republicans are accusing Schumer of trying to jam the defense bill through the Senate after delaying bringing it to the floor. It can take up to two weeks to bring the defense bill up for debate and get it to a final vote.

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The Senate Armed Services Committee voted to advance the defense bill in July, and the delay in bringing it before the full Senate for a vote sparked frustration from Senate Republicans and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithHillicon Valley — Shutterfly gets hacked Biden signs 8 billion defense bill Overnight Defense & National Security — Democrats spar over military justice reform MORE (D-Wash.).

“No matter how important it is, that doesn’t mean that we’ll accept the fact that Sen. Schumer wants to jam it through the Senate without adequate consideration. Let me be clear: Sen. Schumer has put us in this position today. He waited more than two months after we filed the NDAA to bring it to the floor. Two months,” said Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense & National Security — White House raises new alarm over Russia Biden sparks confusion, cleanup on Russia-Ukraine remarks Republicans say Mayorkas failed to deliver report on evacuated Afghans MORE (Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

As part of the deal that leadership tried to clear before the break, the Senate would have voted on 18 amendments, with Schumer noting that Inhofe and Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack ReedJack ReedDefense bill sets up next fight over military justice  Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia Photos of the Week: Tornado aftermath, Medal of Honor and soaring superheroes MORE (D-R.I.) had also worked out a deal to include at least an additional 50 amendments in the bill without needing a vote on each proposal. Of the 18 amendment votes, 11 were either GOP amendments or bipartisan amendments.

But several Republican senators blocked that package. And Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell: I'm going to give Biden's Supreme Court nominee 'a fair look' Progressive millionaire group backs Cisneros, McBath in first public endorsements Clyburn calls for full-court press on voting rights MORE (R-Ky.) on Monday pointed to several issues that Republicans want additional amendment votes on that were not part of the 18-amendment package offered before the Thanksgiving break. They include a proposal for sanctions related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which has the backing of GOP Sens. James Risch (Idaho) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzProgressive millionaire group backs Cisneros, McBath in first public endorsements Manchin and Sinema must help Biden make the Supreme Court look more like America Flake meets with Erdoğan in first official duties as US ambassador MORE (Texas). The House-passed defense bill included Nord Stream 2-related sanctions.

“The Democratic leader seems to want to put national security last. My colleague is trying to overcorrect for poor planning by cramming a two-week bill into two or three days’ time. I imagine there might be finger-pointing at Republicans if that proves impossible,” McConnell said.

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“Nothing less than the safety of the American people is at stake. This is more important than political timetables for partisan wish lists,” he added.

In addition to the pipeline, Republicans want votes on amendments related to support for Ukraine and China.

A White House official told The Hill that the administration is working with lawmakers “on a legislative package of sanctions in the event Russia invades Ukraine further” with an aim at placing maximum penalties on Russia without alienating European allies. Axios previously reported that the German government had urged Congress not to impose Nord Stream 2 pipeline sanctions and voiced concerns that doing so would “damage transatlantic unity.”

“We’re seeing some members of Congress press for sanctions that that don’t actually deter Russia but do threaten Transatlantic unity, in order to score political points at home -- all while holding up critical national security funding on a range of unrelated issues. It makes no sense,” the official added to The Hill. 

But the pathway for the defense bill is unclear. Typically, the House and Senate each pass their version of the bill and then enter formal negotiations to come up with a final deal. Once that happens, the two chambers pass the final agreement and send it to the White House for the president's signature.

Congress has to pass separate legislation this week to fund the government by the end of Friday in order to prevent a shutdown, likely punting the defense bill until at least next week absent an agreement.

It also faces a mid-December deadline for raising the nation’s debt ceiling, and Democrats want to pass President BidenJoe BidenCourt nixes offshore drilling leases auctioned by Biden administration Laquan McDonald's family pushes for federal charges against officer ahead of early release Biden speaks with Ukrainian president amid Russian threat MORE’s climate and social spending bill by the end of December.

Reed indicated that lawmakers could look for alternative paths to reaching a final deal on the defense bill by the end of the year. Aides had floated earlier Monday that the House and Senate could work out a deal without going to a formal conference that would then be taken up by the Senate.

“We will have to do the NDAA. It will be done. I think Sen. Inhofe is committed to that, as I am. And we’ll have to use procedures that are appropriate to get it done,” Reed said. “But we just missed an opportunity to send a clear message that we support this legislation.”

Updated at 9:28 p.m.