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In a gambit to avoid the most controversial pitfalls that could end a 51-year streak of annual passage, the top defense lawmakers from the House and Senate announced a deal on a $632.8 billion National Defense Authorization Act on Monday, even before the Senate had passed its version of the Pentagon policy bill.
“The bill that we have come up with is not a Democratic bill or a Republican bill,” Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Monday on the Senate floor. “It is a bipartisan defense bill.”
At a news conference with the top defense authorizers in Congress late Monday afternoon, House Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said that many had speculated that lawmakers would only be able to pass a “slimmed down” version of the defense authorization bill — but he said they proved the skeptics wrong.
McKeon noted — as Roll Call reported — that the authorizers met behind closed doors last week to work through a number of amendments that would have been considered on the Senate floor. In the end, 79 of the 87 Senate amendments discussed were included in the negotiated version of the bill, McKeon said.
“We worked hard to blend the bill,” Levin said, noting that it was the only way to get the bill passed this year.
The plan laid out by the defense authorizers is for the House to pass the compromise bill this week and send it over to the Senate for speedy passage next week, possibly with a voice vote or under a unanimous consent agreement.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on the Senate floor Monday that he hoped to get a message from the House on the NDAA “soon.”
“And I hope we can dispose of this very quickly,” Reid said.
Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, told CQ Roll Call on Monday evening that “the speaker supports Chairman McKeon and his work on this important bill.”
But the defense authorization measure contains plenty of contentious policies that could still trip it up.
The bill would continue a prohibition on the transfer of detainees from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States, but, as the Senate Armed Services Committee proposed, it would ease certification standards to allow detainees to be transferred to other nations.
The bill also would leave out the controversial sexual-assault amendment from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. It would, however, include more than 30 other provisions related to sexual assault that were included in earlier versions of the House and Senate bills.