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Plan B: Democrats Transferring ‘Must Pass’ Provisions Out Of Defense Bill, Into Continuing Resolution

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"Plan B: Democrats Transferring ‘Must Pass’ Provisions Out Of Defense Bill, Into Continuing Resolution"

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Greg Sargent is reporting that Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are having a difficult time agreeing to a “fair” process for consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act, which Collins says she supports. But she’s demanding a completely open amendment process that would allow Republicans to hijack the debate and offer non-germane amendments:

In private discussions between Collins and Reid this morning, and between their staffs over the weekend, Collins has demanded that Reid allow what’s known as “unlimited debate” on the bill in order for her to vote for repeal, the aide close to the talks says.

Reid has rejected this demand, the aide continues. The problem is that this could allow any Senator to hijack the proceedings by introducing a “non-germane amendment,” thus holding the floor.

Reid does not think Collins herself intends to do this, the aide continues. Rather, he worries that another GOP Senator who strongly opposes repeal, such as Tom Coburn or Jim DeMint, could take advantage of unlimited debate in this fashion to run out the clock.

“He can’t trust Coburn or DeMint,” the aide says. “He can’t agree to that deal.”

Reid has offered Collins a total of 15 amendments in order to get her to vote Yes — 10 for Repubicans and five for Democrats, the aide continues. Reid views this as a reasonable offer, because previous debates on defense authorization bills have had roughly this number of amendments offered, the aide adds.

But as of now, Collins has indicated this offer is “unsatisafctory,” the aide says. A Collins spokesperson denied this account in an email, but declined to elaborate.

As of this writing, Reid still intends to bring the NDAA to a vote, which advocates of repeal say will likely fail without the support of Collins. And in a move that could be interpreted as a recognition of this reality, negotiators are moving some of the must-pass military authorizations out of the NDAA and into the continuing resolution. From CQ’s John M. Donnelly:

A draft continuing resolution in the House contains several provisions that echo “must-pass” portions of the troubled defense authorization bill, setting up a backup plan in the increasingly likely event that Congress fails to clear the annual defense policy measure for the first time in nearly half a century.

The draft continuing resolution, or CR, would ensure enactment of several critical provisions that usually ensure the defense authorization bill becomes law. Those provisions include items required for military pay and bonuses, compensation for civilian employees serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and authorities needed for overseas contingency operations.

With this session of Congress quickly nearing its end, time has nearly run out for debating the defense authorization bill (S 3454) — a process that typically takes a couple of weeks. If the bill dies, so does this year’s effort to repeal the “don’t ask don’t tell” law (PL 103-160) that bars openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

Asked whether the inclusion of the military pay and other provisions was a tacit admission that the defense policy bill won’t move ahead, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., who sits on both the Armed Service and Appropriations panels, acknowledged the bill is facing long odds.

“I’m concerned about the calendar running out,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t know if you can get it done even if you went right to Jan. 5 and worked every day.”

Meanwhile, some advocates are urging Reid to hold on bringing the authorization until he works out a compromise with the moderate senators and then stay in session past Christmas to pass the measure. One aid told Steve Benen that Collins is “basically asking for a unicorn for Christmas. We can’t give her a unicorn.” But why not? Should the negotiations for a fair time and amendment process with Collins fail, why can’t Reid highlight the absurdity of her request and then grant it, keeping the Senate in session until January 2nd to extend Republicans every opportunity to play games with military priorities?

Update

Sen. Lieberman just released the following statement, responding to the Collins reports:

“Senator Collins has been working in good faith to achieve an agreement on the process to move forward with the defense bill that contains the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’ I categorically reject reports by uninformed staffers who have suggested otherwise. As she always does, Senator Collins is working diligently and across party lines to find solutions to the challenges that confront our country. I call on those responsible for such baseless allegations to stop immediately and instead work to get to an agreement to bring this critical bill to the floor for Senate action.

“We are making progress toward an agreement to move forward on the defense bill that includes the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and I remain confident that we can reach an agreement, which is necessary before any vote on the motion to reconsider is taken. I am working closely with Senator Reid and Senator Collins and other members who want to reach a fair and reasonable agreement to move the defense authorization bill that that is so essential to the needs of our troops, veterans, and their families.

“It is now more clear than ever that we have 60 or more votes in support of repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ so it is vitally important to reach agreement on the right process to move forward.”

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