WASHINGTON — The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee is confident the full chamber will take up a Pentagon policy bill before it heads home for the holidays.
The Senate has bickered about gun control, immigration reform, its own rules, President Barack Obama’s judicial and executive-branch nominees, and failed to move spending bills. That means other legislation has remained dormant, just collecting dust as the fiscal year’s end nears.
One such caught-in-limbo bill is a SASC-passed 2014 national defense authorization act (NDAA), which matches the White House’s nearly $527 billion 2014 military budget request.
SASC Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters on Tuesday afternoon that he talked with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid about the defense bill on Monday.
Levin’s takeaway was the Pentagon policy bill would be brought up on the floor “as soon as possible.” Asked by a reporter to translate that into an estimated date, Levin said, “Well, there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world.
Asked by Defense News if he believes the defense authorization bill will hit the Senate floor by the end of the calendar year, Levin replied: “Yes.”
The panel’s NDAA proposes around $526.6 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget request, and $79.4 billion to fund the war in Afghanistan and other overseas conflicts. Those were the amounts requested by the Obama administration.
Both funding authorization levels set up a major issue when a House-Senate conference committee is tasked with crafting a final version of the NDAA to send to President Barack Obama.
That’s because the House Armed Services Committee-approved version would clear the Pentagon to spend up to $552.1 billion in 2014. What’s more, the House bill would approve a war-funding measure of about $85 billion.
The Senate bill mostly adopts the administration’s plans for high-profile weapon programs like the F-35 fighter and Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
On LCS, the bill would mandate reviews of the program. The legislation excludes a cost cap for the Navy’s new aircraft carrier program, though a SASC aide told reporters in June that panel member Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pushed for language mandating one.
With McCain and some influential HASC members like Virginia GOP Rep. Randy Forbes in favor of such a provision, it could be an issue for the coming conference committee.
SASC set up a major conference issue by excluding any approval of monies for a House Republican-proposed East Coast missile shield.
However, the Senate panel essentially is proposing a compromise by authorizing the Pentagon to spend funds to set up advanced sensors that senior military missile defense officials tell SASC leaders would be “more effective than just missiles,” Levin told reporters in June.
The House passed its version of the 2014 NDAA earlier this year.