- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2000

Senate Republicans are confronting the possibility they may not approve a defense authorization bill this year, meaning a number of quality-of-life provisions to help active-duty personnel and retirees could be scuttled.

The fears arose last week when Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, was successful in attaching a campaign finance disclosure amendment to the fiscal 2001 defense bill.

House leaders immediately sent word they would "blue slip," or object, to the bill because the McCain measure contains a revenue provision. Under the U.S. Constitution, all revenue bills must originate in the House, where the House Ways and Means Committee writes tax law.

Senate leaders are talking to Mr. McCain about putting his measure on a revenue-related bill about which the House would not object. But if that compromise cannot be worked out, the bill likely will be held in the Senate, effectively killing it, said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"I have a more optimistic view that we will eventually get the Senate to pass an authorization bill," he said in an interview. "Now, when, where and how, no one can predict."

A Senate source said that if no agreement is reached, Mr. Warner may opt to take key provisions, such as improved health benefits for military retirees, out of the defense bill and attach them to an end-of-the-year omnibus spending bill.

Said Mr. Warner, "I'm not predicting I'm doing dismemberment."

Asked if he was upset with Mr. McCain, his committee colleague, Mr. Warner said: "I've been here 22 years. I don't get upset at anything. The man is acting under the rules."

But Senate aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, were less kind to Mr. McCain. The senator has suspended his run for the Republican presidential nomination but continues to press his issues, such as campaign finance reform, in the Senate.

"All those good provisions in the bill, all that has the potential to go away because McCain is more interested in his national agenda than the defense of this country," said one aide.

The bill includes reform of existing military health care rules to allow retirees to stay in the system, and provisions to get some 6,000 service members off food stamps.

Mr. McCain was the only committee member to vote against the authorization bill when it cleared the Armed Services panel.

In a written attachment to the committee's report, the senator complained of "political meddling" by senators who added money for items not requested by the Pentagon.

The Senate stopped debate on the $309.8 billion bill after Mr. McCain won a roll-call vote for his amendment to require fuller disclosure of donors to political campaigns.

The Senate is to resume debate today, but no final vote is assured. Senators plan to attach more non-defense-related amendments, such as a hate-crimes bill.

Congress produces two military spending bills annually for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. The appropriations bill sets spending levels; the armed services bill authorizes spending as well as military policy and law.

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