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By CAPT Marshall Hanson, USN (Ret.)
The National Defense Authorization (NDAA) is back on track with the Senate version of the bill going to the floor before Nov. 18. The Senate Rules committee has shared that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. will permit three-days of debate – one legislative week.
Historically, the Senate has taken up to three weeks to debate and vote on amendments to a NDAA. Hundreds of amendments are submitted for inclusion in this omnibus bill as it is the only defense legislation considered in the year. It is rare for a stand-alone bill about to be considered by Congress, as normally Armed Services Committee cherry pick from available bills to be included in the NDAA.
"I put all Senators on notice: we will do whatever it takes to accomplish that, even if it means working weekends," Sen. Reid said in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday. The Thanksgiving holiday will help pressure the Senate for quick passage.
The majority leader has several options: He can allow the rules committee to build a list of germane amendments, that would then be debated and voted upon; or he can work with the Armed Services leadership and pre-select a number of amendments which would be presented to the Senate as a managers’ package. If things look to controversial, the bill can be submitted to the Senate as it was marked up by the Armed Services Committee on June 14.
The marked-up Senate bill has 25 provisions in it. Several years ago, the NDAA was sent to the House with only three amendments.
Several provisions appear to be controversial. The most visible is how the military should review sexual assault cases. Personnel subcommittee Chairman Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. has garnered support from 46 Senators to develop a review process that is outside the chain of command. Her boss, SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) wants to change the review process but keep it within the chain of command. Last September, ROA sent a letter of support to Senator Levin. Other issues that will be discussed will be detainees at Guantanamo Bay/Gitmo, sanctions on Iran, and the National Security Agency.
Leader Sen. Reid has stated that he would not tolerate "extraneous issues" that are unrelated to national defense. ROA has been told that a minimum wage provision may be attached to the Senate NDAA.
With a truncated schedule, a Senate version of the Senate NDAA would be completed before the Senate leaves on Thanksgiving recess on Nov. 22. It would then go into conference with the House where leaders negotiate which provisions to include in the final bill. A conference report is issued, which each chamber would vote on, with no amending permitted. Normally this final version of the NDAA is passed with bi-partisan. It is likely that the final bill will be passed and sent to the president for signature just before Christmas.
ROA will be following the NDAA as issues develop, and will be providing membership with a summary in the March/April issue of The Officer.