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Senate pushes Pentagon bill to next week

Nov. 30, 2012 - 02:53PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 30, 2012 - 02:53PM  |  
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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Nov. 30 that a tidal wave of outstanding amendments will force the chamber to finish work on a Pentagon policy bill next week.

During about 20 hours of floor debate on its version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act Nov. 28-30, the Senate completed work on dozens of amendments. But Senate leaders gave up hope of finishing the bill before the weekend as hundreds more piled up at the feet of the bill's managers, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Ranking Member John McCain, R-Ariz.

Levin and McCain will spend much of their final workday of the week compiling what Levin referred to as a "finite list" of amendments that can be acted on when the Senate reconvenes next week.

Reid said the two Senate veterans' "experience … will be put to the test" as they decide which proposed amendments will make the cut, and which will be cast aside.

McCain said crafting a finite list is the best opportunity "to have more amendments considered."

The chamber already has approved an amendment that clears the way for the Pentagon to stay heavily involved in the biofuels industry, as well as one that proposes changes to wartime-contracting practices.

It also failed to find enough common ground to craft language for another amendment focused on funding a GOP-proposed East Coast missile shield, meaning a House-Senate conference committee will decide what to do about a House-passed provision to establish such a system.

A non-binding sense of Congress amendment that endorses a faster transition of security and governing tasks to Afghan troops and officials passed with GOP support.

Other amendments have been focused on issues such as terrorist detention policy, protecting federal civilian and contractor employees from layoffs tied to a specific target, among others.

So far, the Pentagon's weapon programs have escaped scrutiny on the Senate floor.

The White House is threatening to veto the bill over changes made on the floor to terrorist detainee procedures that would prohibit the Defense Department from spending any funds to transfer prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison to the United States.

The Senate bill clears the Pentagon to spend $525.3 billion in base funding in fiscal 2013, and $88.5 billion more for ongoing wars.

Once the upper chamber finishes work on the Pentagon policy bill, a House-Senate conference committee would be tasked with ironing out myriad differences between the two chambers' versions of the legislation.

A senior House Armed Services Committee aide told Defense News last week that members of that committee are prepared to quickly begin the House-Senate conference committee that would have to hammer out differences in the two bills and send a final version to the president by the end of the month.

Both chambers are expected to adjourn around Dec. 24, but could return after Christmas to finish other work, such as a fiscal cliff-avoidance package.

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