Senate Poised To Pass Defense Authorization Bill

By Jen DiMascio

The Senate was poised late yesterday to pass the bill to authorize the Pentagon to spend $648.8 billion during the fiscal year.

From here, a conference committee will work on the differences in the bill before it is approved and sent to the president, who has threatened to veto the bill over at least three provisions including a hate crimes amendment. Meanwhile, the full Senate will turn its attention today to the Senate Appropriations Committee bill to fund Defense Department operations.

Late last week, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested that the amendment would stand in spite of the presidential pressure because it passed by a wide margin in the Senate and was likely to have veto-proof support in the House.

"It's unthinkable to me that he would do it, number one. Number two, I think it would be overridden, and if it weren't overridden, it would go back to the president within 24 hours," Levin said.

The biggest areas of difference between the Senate bill and one passed by the House include funding for the Army's Future Combat System (FCS) program and the Missile Defense Agency (MDA).

On FCS, the conferees must bridge a gap between the House bill, which cut $867 million from the program and the Senate bill, which added $115 million to the program. The Senate left the overall budget for MDA intact, while the House bill trimmed $764 million from the agency's budget.

In the end, the Senate bill also included an amendment sponsored by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) that will authorize $23.6 billion to fund production Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles popular on the Hill because of the upgrade in protection they provide to soldiers against improvised explosive devices.

Throughout the bill's time on the Senate floor, debate focused far less on its treatment of Pentagon acquisition programs than on how to proceed with the war in Iraq. But in the end, the Senators were not able to agree on language that would begin to bring soldiers and Marines back to the United States or to change their mission in Iraq.

Senators did add an amendment sponsored by freshman Democrats to create a Commission on Wartime Contracting that would work with the Special Inspector General of Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR). The language would also allow the SIGIR to expand beyond investigating reconstruction and also look at wartime contracting.

Also added to the bill on the Senate floor were two nonbinding resolutions regarding the Middle East.

One was a resolution sponsored by Biden calling for an international diplomatic effort to seek a political solution in Iraq. Another amendment sponsored by Sen. Jon Kyl (R- Ariz.) designated Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization received wide support.

The Iraq debate is likely to resurface as the Senate begins consideration of the defense appropriations bill.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) issued a statement yesterday saying he intends to propose an amendment he is sponsoring with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to redeploy troops from Iraq.

"Iraq is the most important issue we face, and the Senate must address it when we take up the defense spending bill this week," he said in the statement.

If Iraq returns to the Senate debate on the defense appropriations bill, it will come over the objection of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. Inouye has maintained that debate on the Iraq war belongs in the Iraq supplemental. "If you're going to debate on the war in Iraq, use the supplemental. That's the war bill," he said (Defense Daily, Sept. 10).

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