Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., thinks Armed Services Chairman John McCain is going to be wasting his time managing the defense authorization bill on the floor over the next few weeks.
While Reid said Tuesday he and his caucus would not stand in the way of starting debate on the bill, he stopped short of saying Democrats would not filibuster it on the floor.
"I like [McCain] very much. He's opinionated. I am once in a while," Reid said. "When he first saw what they had done to the defense authorization bill [funding structure], he went sky-high, 'How can they do this? It's wrong!' Now he's joining with them in doing this. I think that until they do something with getting rid of sequestration, it's a gesture in futility what they're doing."
Reid was referring to McCain's previous criticism of the use of Overseas Contingency Operations funding to plug a hole in the base spending for the Pentagon. Both parties have decried the use of such funding, depending on which is in power, as a budget gimmick. Regardless, it has become standard practice for Congress to not count the so-called war money against budget restrictions.
In a speech earlier in the day to the American Action Forum, McCain said more than 200 amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act will be considered this week and next, and many will get votes — provided Democrats don't filibuster.
"Frankly, that's what people expect us to do. ... Unfortunately, we haven't done a lot of that over the last few years," McCain said of the traditionally robust debate on the defense policy bill.
The Arizona Republican was highlighting his long-standing bipartisanship on the defense measure, and the 53-consecutive-year track record of completing the bill, even if Reid often forestalled floor consideration until very late in the year when he was majority leader.
"None of us want to be the first to break that bipartisan method of legislating in putting together the defense bill," McCain said.
But Reid, speaking both with reporters and in the chamber, suggested that while his Democratic caucus was prepared to debate the bill and consider amendments starting Wednesday, it might ultimately filibuster it on the floor.
Agreeing by consent to take up the bill, he said, "doesn't mean we're going to get off the bill once we get on it. We'll see what happens. The president said he's going to veto it, so I think it really is kind of a waste of time, but that's the way it is."
McCain blasted what he called "intransigence" by the White House and some congressional Democrats over insistence that non-defense spending should be raised along with increases in defense spending.
Regardless, he said an authorization shouldn't be held up over the debate about the sources of the money.
"It is the first duty of the federal government to protect the nation. The NDAA is a policy bill. It does not spend a dollar. It provides the Department of Defense and our men and women in uniform with the authorities and support they need to defend the nation," McCain said. "It is not the place for fights over government spending."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., echoed McCain's sentiment during an exchange with Reid on the floor, after his counterpart from Nevada highlighted the veto threats that have already been made about funding levels and sequestration.
"The president is threatening to veto a defense bill unless we increase the funding for the IRS and the EPA," McConnell said, in what is likely to become a familiar talking point.
McConnell's comments about the defense bill came during an impassioned speech against the Senate clearing the overhaul of National Security Agency surveillance powers known as the USA Freedom Act, which the Senate did despite his objection, 67-32.
Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., nonetheless expressed hope that the defense policy debate would ultimately lead to the kind of bipartisan success the Foreign Relations Committee had with the legislation that became law to provide for congressional review of any final agreement with Iran regarding that country's nuclear development.
"I'm confident that we're going to have the same sort of bipartisanship — there's no reason for us not to have the same sort of bipartisan support on the floor of the Senate this week for the National Defense Authorization Act that we had out of committee," Wicker said. "And again, I think we'll be doing what the American people expect us to do on the foreign policy and national defense issues — putting partisanship aside and moving forward as Americans in a bipartisan fashion."
Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report. The 114th: CQ Roll Call's Guide to the New Congress Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.