Timing of Senate vote on FY2011 Defense Authorization bill still uncertain

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Timing of Senate vote on FY2011 Defense Authorization bill still uncertain

When the Senate returned from the summer recess, leaders did not have an agreed-to plan for action on the FY2011 Defense Authorization bill.  The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved a bill in May, but has not been able to get agreement to bring the bill to the floor.  The full House meanwhile passed its version of the bill in May.  Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was reported to have told republican leaders that he intended to press Senate action on the authorization bill next week.  However, he now appears to have backed off that commitment saying he doesn’t think the schedule will allow the Senate to finish the bill this month.  This means that the bill will have to be taken up after the elections in November. That is, if Congress returns for a “lame duck” session.  In any case, Reid will need republican support to move the bill forward.  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and other republican Senators have resisted floor action since the SASC approved it.  A major roadblock to floor action has been language in the SASC bill repealing DoD’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy on gays serving openly in the military.  Sen. McCain has repeatedly expressed his opposition to a bill that includes repealing the DADT language before DoD has completed a required study to determine the effect of the repeal on military readiness.  Senate democrats point out that the language in the bill would not allow repeal until after the report is completed.  However this has not assuaged McCain’s and other opposition.  Further hindering the chances of quick Senate action was Reid’s announcement that he intends to try to add language (“American Dream Act”) that would provide a way for illegal immigrant students to obtain U.S. citizenship.  Many Senators oppose including extraneous material, not relevant to defense, in the bill.  Therefore, even if Senate democrat leaders can marshal 60 votes to move to a vote on the bill, it will take time to reconcile the many differences between the House and Senate bills.

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