Republicans stall defense bill again
By: Austin Wright
November 20, 2013 05:43 PM EST
Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked another attempt by Majority Leader Harry Reid to schedule votes on a pair of controversial amendments to the defense authorization bill dealing with sexual assault.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, once again demanded an open amendment process, saying he wouldn’t allow Reid to schedule votes on just the two amendments.
Reid (D-Nev.) countered that 350 amendments had been filed on the massive defense bill and that there was no way to get through them all before the two-week Thanksgiving recess. The Nevada Democrat said he would continue working to reach an agreement for votes on the sexual assault amendments, possibly even Wednesday night.
“Couldn’t we at least have a vote on this amendment that people spent days of their lives working on?” Reid pleaded on the Senate floor.
And, speaking afterward, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) also urged his Republican colleagues to allow the bill to move forward.
“If we don’t finish this bill this week, there cannot be a conference report,” the Michigan Democrat said. “Then, for the first time in 52 years, we will not have a defense bill, absent some miracle.”
The Senate’s last-minute impasse follows months of nationwide debate on how Congress should reform the way the Pentagon handles military sexual assaults.
One of the amendments, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), would authorize military lawyers — not commanders — to decide whether to prosecute allegations of sexual assault and other major crimes in the ranks. Top Pentagon leaders have opposed the measure, arguing commanders must remain a part of the process.
The other amendment, sponsored by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), would set new rules for how military sexual assault victims and defendants should be treated, punish retaliation against sexual assault accusers and offer other reforms while keeping the current command structure in place.