Amendment Snafu Snags Defense Bill

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 15: U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) walks through the Capitol Building on October 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. The government has been shut down for 14 days.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
Nov. 20, 2013, 5:06 p.m.

The an­nu­al bill to au­thor­ize de­fense pro­grams hit a land mine Wed­nes­day when Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans ob­jec­ted that Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, D-Nev., was re­fus­ing to al­low de­bate on their amend­ments. Some charged that Re­id was shield­ing Pres­id­ent Obama from an un­wanted de­bate on new Ir­an sanc­tions.

The Sen­ate was ex­pec­ted to vote Wed­nes­day even­ing on com­pet­ing amend­ments to ad­dress sexu­al as­sault in the mil­it­ary from Sens. Kirsten Gil­librand, D-N.Y., and Claire Mc­Caskill, D-Mo., but the plan blew up when Re­id could not get a un­an­im­ous-con­sent agree­ment to move for­ward.

“We just ran in­to the ditch,” said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, after Re­id tem­por­ar­ily aban­doned his ef­fort to bring de­bate on the amend­ments to a close.

Later in the even­ing, Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee rank­ing mem­ber James In­hofe, R-Okla., an­nounced a com­prom­ise pro­pos­al: Sen­at­ors from both parties could each bring 25 amend­ments to the floor, or half the num­ber sought by Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, lead­er of the Steer­ing Com­mit­tee for Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans. “If we re­fuse to do that, I am go­ing to go ahead and vote to sup­port clo­ture and sup­port our bill,” In­hofe said.

Shortly after In­hofe offered the plan, Re­id re­turned to the floor and filed a clo­ture mo­tion on the de­fense bill, set­ting up a vote for Fri­day on wheth­er to end de­bate. That gives both sides time to try and work out an agree­ment on amend­ments Thursday.

Frus­tra­tion from Re­pub­lic­ans who want to have a broad­er de­bate on a range of is­sues and push for­ward ad­di­tion­al Ir­an sanc­tions simmered for much of the day Wed­nes­day while sen­at­ors on the floor de­bated the Gil­librand and Mc­Caskill amend­ments.

Gil­librand con­tin­ued to lobby hol­d­outs to try to per­suade them to sup­port her meas­ure, which the Pentagon vo­ci­fer­ously op­poses. It would take the de­cision of wheth­er to pro­sec­ute mil­it­ary sexu­al as­saults out of the chain of com­mand.

By late Wed­nes­day, Gil­librand had won a few more sup­port­ers, in­clud­ing Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Sher­rod Brown, D-Ohio, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., bring­ing her list of known back­ers to 53. But 60 votes are needed to move to a fi­nal vote on the amend­ment, and it ap­pears doubt­ful Gil­librand will clear that hurdle. It is more likely that the Sen­ate would in­stead ad­opt a far more mod­er­ate amend­ment from Mc­Caskill and Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Deb Fisc­her, R-Neb. Their amend­ment, which has been cri­ti­cized by vic­tims-ad­vocacy or­gan­iz­a­tions who say it main­tains the status quo, would al­low sexu­al-as­sault vic­tims to chal­lenge un­fair dis­charges from the ser­vice and would add ad­di­tion­al checks over com­mand­ers’ pro­sec­u­tion de­cisions.

Sev­er­al Re­pub­lic­ans said anxi­ety that Re­id would not al­low any ad­di­tion­al amend­ments to be con­sidered after the two planned votes on the sexu­al-as­sault amend­ments led to the ob­jec­tion to pro­ceed from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Coburn is seek­ing con­sid­er­a­tion of at least eight amend­ments to cut costs in the De­fense De­part­ment, par­tic­u­larly one that would audit the Pentagon. “We have a Rules Com­mit­tee of one now,” Coburn said. “The ma­jor­ity wants to pick our amend­ments, even rel­ev­ant amend­ments. That is not the way the Sen­ate is sup­posed to work. That totally denies me my right as a minor­ity sen­at­or to of­fer im­prove­ments to the bill.”

Coburn said his audit amend­ment would save $25 bil­lion and he has sev­er­al oth­ers he is push­ing but is not de­mand­ing a vote on each of them. “I have all sorts of oth­er amend­ments that will save a ton of money in the Pentagon…. And I can’t get a guar­an­tee that I can get a vote,” he said.

Coburn said that a vote to table his amend­ment or to in­clude it in a man­ager’s amend­ment would sat­is­fy him.

In­hofe said that Coburn was put­ting to­geth­er a re­vised pro­pos­al that would al­low lim­ited de­bate on some rel­ev­ant or re­lated amend­ments, but there was an­oth­er, largely un­spoken con­cern among Re­pub­lic­ans. A num­ber of GOP sen­at­ors would like to bring up amend­ments to im­pose new sanc­tions on Ir­an un­less it pulls back on its nuc­le­ar am­bi­tions, but Demo­crats know that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion does not want that pub­lic de­bate in the midst of talks in the Middle East. “That is the one that the pres­id­ent is say­ing he doesn’t want con­sidered,” In­hofe said.

Sen. Lind­sey Gra­ham, R-S.C., said he sus­pec­ted the hol­dup Wed­nes­day likely had to do with con­cerns about the abil­ity to ad­dress Ir­an sanc­tions. “I don’t know if this is Ir­an,” he said. “Something is driv­ing this, be­cause I’m ready to vote on this thing,” he ad­ded, re­fer­ring to the sexu­al-as­sault is­sue.

“Ir­an looms large here. I don’t know. I can’t ex­plain to you why we are hav­ing this prob­lem. It’s the only thing I can think of,” Gra­ham said.

Earli­er in the day, oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans soun­ded off on Ir­an.

“My hope is that we will con­tin­ue to in­crease sanc­tions,” said Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla. “I don’t know if we will get an op­por­tun­ity to do that pro­ced­ur­ally on this bill, but I think we need to con­tin­ue to push for­ward on that.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a co­spon­sor of an Ir­an-sanc­tions amend­ment offered to the de­fense bill from Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., said that a group of Re­pub­lic­ans were still push­ing for an op­por­tun­ity to con­sider ad­di­tion­al Ir­an sanc­tions.

“Sen­at­or Re­id is the one who ba­sic­ally con­trols wheth­er we get a vote on the Ir­an-sanc­tions amend­ment, and … I’m very con­cerned that Sec­ret­ary [of State John] Kerry and the pres­id­ent des­per­ately want a deal, and what usu­ally hap­pens then is you get a bad deal,” Cornyn said.

“We are still try­ing to work through that. We need to max­im­ize our ne­go­ti­at­ing lever­age, not min­im­ize it.”

Re­id said there have been 350 amend­ments filed on the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill, but that every time he reaches a tent­at­ive agree­ment with Re­pub­lic­ans they move the goal­posts.

“We are not in a po­s­i­tion to deal with this for all the reas­ons that we have talked about here for sev­er­al months,” he said on the floor. “We are not ser­i­ously le­gis­lat­ing any­more….”

Re­id said that reach­ing agree­ments on lim­ited amend­ments doesn’t work, be­cause if 13 are agreed to, as had been dis­cussed, then mem­bers just turn around and ask for more. He pressed for votes on the sexu­al-as­sault amend­ments.

Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Chair­man Carl Lev­in, D-Mich., ar­gued that if the Sen­ate can­not com­plete the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill this week, it stands in jeop­ardy of not be­ing con­fer­enced with the House and en­acted for the first time in 52 years. That is be­cause there will be only one week after the Thanks­giv­ing re­cess when both the House and Sen­ate are in ses­sion.

“We need to get this bill fin­ished this week, or else we are not go­ing to get a con­fer­ence re­port,” he said.

What We're Following See More »
IN ADDITION TO DNC AND DCCC
Clinton Campaign Also Hacked
5 hours ago
THE LATEST
1.5 MILLION MORE TUNED IN FOR TRUMP
More People Watched Trump’s Acceptance Speech
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Hillary Clinton hopes that television ratings for the candidates' acceptance speeches at their respective conventions aren't foreshadowing of similar results at the polls in November. Preliminary results from the networks and cable channels show that 34.9 million people tuned in for Donald Trump's acceptance speech while 33.3 million watched Clinton accept the Democratic nomination. However, it is still possible that the numbers are closer than these ratings suggest: the numbers don't include ratings from PBS or CSPAN, which tend to attract more Democratic viewers.

Source:
AFFECTS NOVEMBER ELECTIONS
North Carolina Voter ID Law Struck Down
8 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned North Carolina's 2013 voter ID law, saying it was passed with “discriminatory intent." The decision sends the case back to the district judge who initially dismissed challenges to the law. "The ruling prohibits North Carolina from requiring photo identification from voters in future elections, including the November 2016 general election, restores a week of early voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and ensures that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will remain in effect."

Source:
NORTH DAKOTA TO ILLINOIS
Massive Oil Pipeline Approved for the Midwest
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

An oil pipeline almost as long as the much-debated Keystone XL has won final approval to transport crude from North Dakota to Illinois, traveling through South Dakota and Iowa along the way. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the final blessing to the Dakota Access pipeline on Tuesday. Developers now have the last set of permits they need to build through the small portion of federal land the line crosses, which includes major waterways like the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. The so-called Bakken pipeline goes through mostly state and private land."

Source:
DISAPPOINTING RESULTS
GDP Grew at 1.2% in Q2
10 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The U.S. economy grew at an anemic 1.2% in the second quarter, "well below the 2.6% growth economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast." Consumer spending was "robust," but it was offset by "cautious" business investment. "Since the recession ended seven years ago, the expansion has failed to achieve the breakout growth seen in past recoveries. "The average annual growth rate during the current business cycle, 2.1%, remains the weakest of any expansion since at least 1949."

Source:
×