Defense Bill in Limbo in Senate as Year-End Deadline Approaches

A must-pass defense authorization bill is on shaky ground after U.S. senators voted against moving forward with it.

The vote to cut off debate Monday failed by 45-51, as GOP senators demanded consideration of more amendments to the annual Pentagon policy measure.

The setback is likely to delay the defense authorization bill even further than it has been and risks derailing the traditionally bipartisan legislation that has become law annually for 60 years. Congress is running out of time to send President Joe Biden the measure ahead of the Dec. 31 expiration of critical military authorizations and policies because the Senate bill will need to be reconciled with the House-passed measure (H.R. 4350).

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the Republicans’ move “outrageous.”

Republicans have to “understand that this is a process that has been fair, at any other time would have been considered down the middle which is it has been,” Schumer said on the floor.

Defense Bill Faces Further Delay as Senate Procedural Vote Fails

The Senate’s consideration of the bill has been delayed significantly this year as Democratic leaders negotiated legislation to support Biden’s social and economic agenda. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the defense policy bill in July.

Republicans have scoffed at the delays and have objected to condensing consideration of the defense bill in just a few days without any amendment votes. There are a few key amendments that GOP senators have been pushing to consider, including one imposing more sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Europe.

“Because the Majority Leader mismanaged the Senate schedule, he won’t allow votes on bipartisan amendments that make our country more secure,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said on the floor Monday as he announced he would oppose cutting off debate on the bill.

The time constraints will prevent the House and Senate from having a regular conference to resolve their differences ahead of Dec. 31. Instead, House Armed Services Chair Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters the defense panels are preparing for the possibility of a “ping-pong” scenario in which the House and Senate would trade and pass the same amended version of the bill instead of producing a conference report.

“We will have to do the NDAA,” Senate Armed Services Chair Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said. “We will have to use the procedures that are appropriate to get it done, but we just missed an opportunity to send a clear message that we support this legislation, we support our troops.”

Reed said he will work with Inhofe to “continue forward” to develop legislation that will be “acceptable” to the Senate.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roxana Tiron in Washington at rtiron@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

Top