- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2013

Lawmakers are trying to rush the 2014 defense policy bill through Congress in less than a week to keep up a decadeslong streak of passing the key piece of legislation that covers defense spending, including military pay.

The leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees rolled out a proposal Monday on Capitol Hill, saying it appeals to members of both parties and could pass the House before members are scheduled to leave town at the end of the week.

“This is not the best way to proceed, but our troops and their families and our nation’s security deserve a defense bill and this is the only practical way to get a defense bill done,” Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Monday on the Senate floor. “There is no other way.”

Meanwhile, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a letter to congressional leaders urging them to pass the National Defense Authorization Act and warning them that failure to do so could create uncertainty for the troops.

The legislation introduced by the bipartisan group on Monday sets aside $632.8 billion for the defense budget, which includes more than $80 million for the ongoing overseas operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

It also includes provisions aimed at curbing sexual assault and loosens some of the restrictions on transferring prisoners to foreign countries from the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mr. Levin said about half of the detainees could be transferred to the third-world countries from which they came under the bill.

The compromise bill, though, does not include the contentious proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, that would strip military commanders of their ability to prosecute sexual assault in an attempt to prevent retaliation against subordinates for reporting crimes.

In his letter to congressional leaders, Gen. Dempsey called on them to move on a bill before the end of the year.

“The authorities therein are critical to the nation’s defense and urgently needed to ensure we all keep faith with the men and women, military and civilian, selflessly serving in our armed forces,” Gen. Dempsey wrote.

The House version of the defense policy bill passed in June, but the bill stalled in the Senate last month when lawmakers could not agree on a fair way to handle more than 100 proposed amendments.

When it became obvious that there was not enough time for the traditional method of passage in both chambers followed by negotiations, lawmakers worked out a compromise that they hope can pass before the end of the year.

Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican and ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said momentum is building for the bill.

“I see a totally different change in attitude now that we’re at a point where the choices are so limited that it’s either we do it or we don’t do it,” he said. “So I can’t tell you that we have a commitment on the Republican side for this, but we have a lot more support than we would have had or we did have during the consideration of the bill.”