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Levin: Leave NSA amendments out of Defense bill

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinWill the real Lee Hamiltons and Olympia Snowes please stand up? The Hill's Morning Report - Biden officials brace for worst despite vaccine data Michigan GOP unveils dozens of election overhaul bills after 2020 loss MORE (D-Mich.) said that he does not want amendments on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs offered during Senate floor debate of the Defense authorization bill.

Levin told The Hill Wednesday that the NSA’s spying programs are too big of an issue for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets Pentagon policy. The NSA issues should be taken up in separate legislation, he said.

“I think it’s such a major issue, I would hope it would be not be attempted to be debated during the NDAA,” Levin said. “It’s too big. I’m going to encourage them to take it up separately.”

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Floor debate on the Defense authorization bill is always freewheeling, with hundreds of amendments offered and dozens receiving votes.

As one of the few remaining pieces of must-pass legislation — Congress has passed the bill for 51 straight years — it’s an attractive vehicle for lawmakers seeking changes to the NSA’s phone and Internet surveillance programs.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBiden fails to break GOP 'fever' Nevada governor signs law making state first presidential primary Infighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms MORE (D-Nev.) said he expects the Defense bill to come to the floor before Thanksgiving.

The Defense bill already has a host of other contentious issues on the docket, including restrictions on transferring Guantánamo detainees, military sexual assault, the war in Afghanistan and Syria.

But the NSA’s surveillance programs were a major issue during House debate on the Defense appropriations bill in June.

Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashAmash warns of turning lawmakers like Cheney into 'heroes' Cheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP Biden: 'Prince Philip gladly dedicated himself to the people of the UK' MORE (R-Mich.) secured a vote on an amendment to end the NSA’s phone metadata collection, which narrowly failed 205-217.

Outrage over the NSA’s surveillance has only grown since then, including the latest dustup over spying on foreign leaders.

Only portions of the NSA fall under the purview of the Pentagon. Agency operations focusing on cyber warfare are carried out by troops under U.S. Cyber Command are managed by the Pentagon.

The intelligence community, led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is responsible for data collection and intelligence analysis conducted by the agency.

Other committees are also working on NSA-related legislation already. The Senate Intelligence Committee began marking up a bill from Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinYouth climate activists march outside California homes of Pelosi and Feinstein Cosmetic chemicals need a makeover Progressives want to tighten screws beyond Manchin and Sinema MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday, which had roughly two dozen amendments.

Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyShelby signals GOP can accept Biden's .5T with more for defense Bipartisan lawmakers want Biden to take tougher action on Nicaragua Biden budget expands government's role in economy MORE (D-Vt.) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) introduced more sweeping legislation on Tuesday that would end the NSA’s massive phone records collection program, which was also the target of Amash’s amendment.

That legislation will be marked up through Leahy’s Judiciary Committee.