Senate Beats the Clock on Defense Spending Bill

A late-night vote prevented pay lapses and sent the measure to President Obama’s desk.

A U.S. soldier assists an evacuee in Leyte, Philippines, four days after a typhoon devastated the region.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
Dec. 19, 2013, 6:38 p.m.

The Sen­ate on Thursday passed the Na­tion­al De­fense Au­thor­iz­a­tion Act by 84-15 after a pro­trac­ted de­bate and Re­pub­lic­an dis­gruntle­ment over the pro­cess used to pass the meas­ure.

By passing the meas­ure be­fore ad­journ­ing, the Sen­ate en­sured that crit­ic­al na­tion­al se­cur­ity ini­ti­at­ives will not lapse at year’s end, in­clud­ing com­bat pay, mil­it­ary pay in­creases, re­sources for troops in Afgh­anistan, and coun­terter­ror­ism meas­ures.

The House ap­proved the same bill last week. It now moves to the pres­id­ent’s desk for his sig­na­ture.

The bill au­thor­izes $552.1 bil­lion for na­tion­al de­fense and an­oth­er $80.7 bil­lion for over­seas con­tin­gency op­er­a­tions.

It in­cludes some re­forms to ad­dress sexu­al as­saults, but law­makers hope to con­tin­ue that de­bate next year. It also takes steps to­ward Pres­id­ent Obama’s goal of clos­ing Guantanamo Bay by lift­ing re­stric­tions against de­tain­ee trans­fers abroad.

“While the bill does not ad­dress all of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­cerns, its pro­vi­sions re­gard­ing for­eign trans­fers of de­tain­ees held at the U.S. Nav­al Sta­tion, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will provide the ad­min­is­tra­tion ad­di­tion­al flex­ib­il­ity to trans­fer de­tain­ees abroad con­sist­ent with our na­tion­al se­cur­ity in­terests,” said White House press sec­ret­ary Jay Car­ney in a press re­lease.

Re­pub­lic­ans cri­ti­cized the pro­cess, lament­ing the fact that the bill con­sidered crit­ic­al to na­tion­al de­fense lan­guished in the Sen­ate for six months without ac­tion — only to be fin­ished without the al­low­ance of an open amend­ment pro­cess.

The vote comes near the end of a con­ten­tious post-Thanks­giv­ing work peri­od colored by Re­pub­lic­an an­ger over Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id’s change in fili­buster rules that ef­fect­ively guts the op­pos­i­tion’s power to block most nom­in­ees.

As Re­id has forced mem­bers to vote on nom­in­ees since the con­ten­tious rule change, Re­pub­lic­ans in many cases have forced Demo­crats to run out the clock by tak­ing up max­im­um de­bate time after pro­ced­ur­al clo­ture votes.

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