Senators managed to duck a war debate Thursday while passing the National Defense Authorization Act and then immediately filibustering the Defense spending bill.
The $612 billion NDAA for the next fiscal year sailed through, 71-25, after senators invoked cloture on both a substitute amendment and the underlying bill in recent days. But breaking a potential filibuster brought restrictions on amendments.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., joined with Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona on one such proposal to push for an authorization for the use of force against the Islamic State terror group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.
"Flake and I had an amendment to express the sense of the Senate that there should be an AUMF, and the amendment was ruled — of all things — non-germane," Kaine said. "Even though we're voting on barracks, mold and vehicle rust, it was ruled non-germane. But, we are taking it up in Foreign Relations next week."
Kaine was echoing comments he also made on the Senate floor ahead of the vote on the defense authorization.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., who had filed an amendment to provide a sunset for the original Authorization for the Use of Military Force that came into law in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, said the members of the Foreign Relations panel were still seeking consensus.
"I think what we're trying to do is have some discussions among the members of the committee to see whether there is a path forward. I think there is general agreement that Congress should have passed authorization, but there's no, yet, consensus as to what this should include," Cardin told CQ Roll Call. "I'm not sure we're there yet. I'm not sure we'll get there. We're having those discussions."
Sen. Christopher S. Murphy wants to see a full debate on restricting the use of ground troops to combat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, particularly in the event a Republican wins the presidency in the 2016 election, but he conceded the vehicles for floor action may be few and far between.
"The leverage points are atrophying by the day," the Connecticut Democrat said. "There's only so many way to force a debate on either an AUMF or a limitation on combat troops. You know, I think our eggs are increasingly in the Foreign Relations Committee basket now."
"I'm flexible on how we write a troop limitation. My amendment is my preferred version, but I understand that there might be a different version that could get more bipartisan support," Murphy said.
As for the Defense spending bill, Democrats have adopted a strategy of filibustering the motion to debate appropriations bills that would adhere to current spending limits — levels that the Obama administration has pledged to veto.
"Sequestration was never intended to take effect: rather, it was supposed to threaten such drastic cuts to both defense and non-defense funding that policymakers would be motivated to come to the table and reduce the deficit through smart, balanced reforms. The Republican framework would bring base discretionary funding for both non-defense and defense to the lowest real levels in a decade," said a Statement of Administration Policy.
Senate Democratic leadership sent a letter Thursday to their GOP counterparts ahead of the vote calling for bipartisan negotiations on new fiscal 2016 spending levels.
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