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Senate-House Conferees Approve $632.8 Billion Defense Authorization Bill

WASHINGTON (UPI) — A bipartisan deal on a $632.8 billion National Defense Authorization Act has been reached, top U.S. defense lawmakers in the Senate and House said.

Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-Calif.) said lawmakers met behind closed doors last week to work through a myriad of amendments that would have been considered on the Senate floor if that chamber had taken up its version of the defense bill, Roll Call reported Tuesday.

Ultimately, 79 of the 87 Senate amendments discussed by conferees were included in the negotiated version of the budget bill, McKeon said Monday in announcing the deal.

“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.”

“We worked hard to blend the bill,” Levin said, noting it was the only way to get the bill passed this year.

Still, the closed-door process has rankled some rank-and-file lawmakers, most prominently Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who said open debate on amendments is necessary when considering the largest chunk of discretionary spending Congress authorizes each year.

“How many years has it been since we’ve had an NDAA with no amendments? It’s never happened. Here’s half of our discretionary spending, authorization for it, why would we shut off the right to have amendments?” Coburn told Roll Call. “I’m not about to give up my right to offer amendments because somebody wants to get a bill through that hasn’t been fully vetted.”

Coburn said he has not ruled out staging a filibuster to block the bill. His spokesman called the process “ludicrous.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he hoped to get a message from the House on the Pentagon budget bill “soon” so it could be considered “very quickly.”

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, told Roll Call the speaker “supports Chairman McKeon and his work on this important bill.”

Among other things, the bill would continue a prohibition on the transfer of detainees from prison camps in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States, but would ease certification standards to allow detainees to be transferred to other nations, Roll Call said.

The bill does not include a controversial sexual assault amendment offered by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), but would include more than 30 other provisions related to sexual assault that were in earlier versions of the House and Senate bills.

Gillibrand’s office told Roll Call Monday if the Senator didn’t get a vote through the defense authorization debate, she would seek a vote another way.

The plan as outlined by defense appropriators would be for the House to pass the compromise this week and send it to the Senate for speedy passage next week, Roll Call said.

UPI - United Press International, Inc.

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