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With days left, Congressional leaders plan votes on key military bills

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he plans to hold votes on a fiscal 2014 defense bill as well as a two-year federal budget deal, after agreements on both were reached this week.

His comments followed Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., both of whom have now said the $632.8 billion National Defense Authorization Act will receive a House vote Thursday or Friday, before the House adjourns Friday, followed by a Senate vote next week, before it adjourns Dec. 20.

House and Senate leaders agreed Monday to an expedited process for the bill, with few or no amendments, because of the dwindling time available and because Army Gen. Martin Dempsey publicly pushed for such action in a letter to Congress on Monday. Approval before the end of the year is important because otherwise, a variety of special pay provisions would have expired on Dec. 31.

The expedited process means that proposals to reform the military’s justice system regarding sexual assaults won’t get votes, nor will controversial sanctions against Iran. The bill does include more than two dozen other improvements to sexual assault prosecutions in the military, however, and eases restrictions on how prisoners can be transferred from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The $1.012 trillion budget deal for fiscal year 2014, announced late Tuesday by Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would also get an initial House vote sometime before the end of Friday, followed by a Senate vote the following week.

In a surprise development, Ryan and Murray were able to strike a deal that actually restores spending cuts that had been forced on the Pentagon — $22.5 billion in the 2014 fiscal year and another $9 billion in 2015. Not all sequestration funds are restored; the deal puts back about half of sequestration’s cuts in 2014, and about a quarter of them in 2015.

Without the deal, the agreement reached in October to end the 16-day government shutdown and avert a debt ceiling default would have ended Jan. 15, risking another shutdown and automatically triggering tens of billions of dollars in sequestration cuts as mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act. The Pentagon itself would have lost as much as $50 billion. Ryan credited Pentagon officials with heavily influencing the budget negotiations and restoring at least some of the spending cuts.
 

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