- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Senate labored into the night Thursday on a vote to clear a massive defense policy bill that ignores many of the big issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and government mass-snooping programs, after Democratic leaders blocked all amendments and forced what one senator called a “take it or leave it” vote.

Considered must-pass legislation, this year’s bill gives President Obama slightly more flexibility to transfer detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to other countries, but ducks many of the other big problems.

“We haven’t debated the [National Security Agency]. We haven’t debated this issue of sexual assault, the [Iran] sanctions, the detainee issue,” said Arizona Sen. John McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee

The fight over amendments is just the latest procedural blow-up in an increasingly bitter Senate.

The late-night vote on the defense bill was supposed to be followed by an early-morning vote on a controversial pick to be deputy secretary at the Homeland Security Department, setting up what could be two straight days of votes on other nominees. The Homeland Security nominee vote is expected at 4 a.m.

“This is the best we can do. It’s not ideal,” said SenateArmed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, as he defended the process and said that since the House has already adjourned for the year, the choice was this bill, untouched, or no bill at all.

That’s not to say the measure was partisan. The compromise on the Senate floor was struck between Mr. Levin and his GOP counterpart in the House, Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California.

Indeed, Mr. McKeon won many of the big fights, including retaining most of the strictures that would prevent Mr. Obama from closing the Guantanamo Bay prison or transferring detainees from there to the U.S. for trial or holding. The president has long said he wanted to close the terrorist detainee site, but has been repeatedly blocked by Congress.

The defense authorization bill ducks big fights such as whether to stiffen sanctions on Iran even as Mr. Obama is trying to negotiate a halt in that nation’s nuclear development program.

Even Republicans such as Mr. McCain who objected to the process said they expected to vote for the defense bill, saying it was too important to help the troops.

“We can’t turn it down, but we can’t make it a bill the American people can be proud of,” Mr. McCain said.

Earlier this week the Senate cleared a new overall budget bill, in what Democrats said they hoped was a sign the GOP was ready to acquiesce to more Democratic priorities.

But on Thursday, Republicans objected to Democrats’ moves to extend unemployment benefits yet again, and to extend special-interest tax breaks. GOP senators said they wouldn’t accept those bills without the chance for amendments — something Democrats rejected.

Mr. Reid said Republicans “owe an apology” to unemployed Americans whose benefits will expire at the end of this year, after they’ve gone months without finding jobs.

“Sadly, Republicans have now decided that they would rather let this program expire than cooperate with Democrats,” the Nevada Democrat said.

He vowed to make a vote on restoring unemployment benefits the first action the Senate takes when it returns in January from a two-week Christmas vacation.

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