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Vote on defense bill for current fiscal year may slip past Thanksgiving

WASHINGTON — Odds have grown thin that the full Senate will vote on the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act before breaking for Thanksgiving recess.

Despite warning that he would do "whatever it takes" to get the annual defense bill passed by the time Congress adjourns Thursday, Nov. 21, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., seems resigned that it will not happen. Reid had threatened to keep the Senate in session on weekends, but that looks unlikely as well.

A procedural objection being raised by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., on an unrelated bill, has prevented the Senate from taking up the defense bill all week. Senior Democratic leadership aides now say the Senate won't take it up until early next week because of Vitter's objections. That makes a final vote unlikely by next Thursday night, when senators traditionally prefer to leave town before weekends and holidays. An aide confirmed that scenario Thursday afternoon, blaming the delay on Vitter.

The NDAA, which authorizes military pay and benefits as well as some policies, passed the Senate Armed Services Committee on a 23-3 vote on June 14. The House already passed the NDAA by a vote of 315-108 on the same day.

But it is also attracting a number of controversial amendments, many of which will receive floor votes. Two such amendments, one by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and another by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would make significant changes to how the military handles sexual assault prosecutions.

The bill authorizes a 1 percent pay raise for all members of the uniformed services, which is consistent with President Barack Obama's budget request. It also authorizes active duty end strengths of 520,000 for the Army, 323,600 for the Navy, 190,200 for the Marine Corps and 327,600 for the Air Force. Those numbers could change next year, depending on whether the forced federal spending cuts known as sequestration continue. 

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