Senate Set to Pass Defense Authorization Measure

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, left, seen here with Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, expressed regret the chamber could not agree on how to bring up all the amendments senators wanted to vote on. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

With the Senate’s 2018 defense authorization bill passing a procedural hurdle Thursday, the chamber is expected to vote on final passage of the massive military policy bill Monday.

The Senate voted 84-9 to invoke cloture and limit debate on a substitute version of the bill that includes 104 amendments.

The question now is which, if any, amendments will be considered. There was no deal on a path forward for votes by the time the Senate departed Thursday for the weekend. But Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said he hoped to have an agreement on another package of amendments before final passage.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called for the cloture vote on a substitute version of the bill after a stalemate emerged between Republicans and Democrats over additional amendments to the legislation.

“The two sides have now reached an impasse on further amendments,” McConnell said.

Before the cloture vote, Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin objected to the motion, as one of her amendments is now unlikely to be considered.

“I am frustrated that we are not going to see a vote on this Buy America amendment,” Baldwin said regarding her proposal that has the backing of the White House. “The Senate is supposed to be an institution where we can debate and bring our ideas forward.”

McCain promised Baldwin and New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand, who offered an amendment that would protect transgender service members from expulsion from the military, that both of their proposals would be included in the conference process with the House later this year.

McCain also lamented limiting debate on the bill, blaming the cloture vote on disagreement over a handful of amendments.

“I regret that we have finally had to turn to cloture,” McCain said. “It really came down to about four amendments that we were never really able to get agreement on.”

The four vexing amendments included measures from Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton to end defense sequestration; an amendment from Utah Republican Mike Lee to bar the indefinite detention of American citizens on U.S. soil; Baldwin’s amendment supporting the U.S. defense industry; and an amendment from Illinois Democrat Richard J. Durbin that seeks to boost defense spending for medical research.

Invoking cloture limits debate on the legislation. But the Senate, if it reaches an agreement, can still vote on germane amendments to the bill ahead of final passage.

“We are still continuing to work together to see if there are additional amendments that we can incorporate,” said Rhode Island Democrat Jack Reed, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Whether amendments are germane to the bill under consideration is subject to the opinion of the Senate parliamentarian.

The standoff Thursday came after both parties approved by unanimous consent scores of amendments to the bill that are not controversial. The amended substitute bill had not yet been adopted.

These amendments include a requirement for a report on the damage wrought by this month’s hurricanes on military facilities and a mandate for a request for funding to repair affected installations.

Another provision would require a report on contractor fraud that must include a recommendation on “how to penalize contractors repeatedly involved in fraud.” A third amendment would establish a task force to provide a blueprint for how the military should plan and budget for fighting U.S. adversaries using cyber capabilities.

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