September 18, 2008

Update: Defense Authorization Passes without Iran Amendments, More to Come…

Last night at 6:30pm, the Senate voted 88-8 to approve the Defense Authorization Act of 2009 (S. 3001)  without taking up nearly 100 pending amendments, including new Iran sanctions proposed by Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT).
The Senate spent the last two weeks debating these proposed amendments, but in the end failed to approve of any of them — though it could still be possible that the final version will contain most or all of them.  But Congress will certainly have to work hard to finalize an agreement in time to adjourn next week.
The bill now moves to a conference committee made up of select Representatives and Senators who will work out a compromise over differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.  Aides are predicting that the nearly 100 proposed amendments could still be approved by the conference committee and attached to the final version that President Bush signs into law. 
According to CQ:

The amendments were casualties of an unresolved row centering on earmarks, specific spending items directed by Congress and not requested by the administration. The dispute roiled debate and delayed the bill’s progress this month.
The fight grew out of a January executive order by President Bush ordering government agencies to disregard earmarks unless they are in the final bill that the president signs. Earmarks in reports accompanying bills should be ignored, Bush said…
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s defense bill contains more than $5 billion in earmarks, all of which are listed in the committee’s report. In response to Bush’s executive order, the bill contains language saying the earmarks in the report should be considered a part of the legislation.

But Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) objected to that language, saying the procedure doesn’t allow for the Senate to alter the amendments.  With his objection, the package of 100 amendments couldn’t be approved, and the bill was passed essentially unaltered from its original form approved by the Armed Services Committee.
The conference committee will begin its work today to hammer out a compromise bill, but is not expected to complete its work before the middle of next week at the earliest.  This will push a final vote to approve the changes right up against the targeted September 26 adjournment date.  According to Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), that schedule is optimistic because it “assumes maximum crunch.”

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