WASHINGTON Leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives Armed Services committees have agreed on a slimmed-down defense authorization bill and want the House to vote on the measure before it leaves on its year-end holiday recess at the end of this week, Senator Carl Levin said on Monday.
Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Senate was unable to vote on a huge range of proposed amendments to the bill in time to pass it this year, so committee leaders reached agreement on a compromise version of the legislation.
"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," Levin said on the Senate floor. The defense panel leaders want a final vote in the Senate next week.
The compromise bill authorizes $552.1 billion in spending for national defense and an additional $80.7 billion for foreign military operations, including in Afghanistan. The base budget is unchanged from the 2013 bill, but war spending is $7.8 billion lower.
The defense bill does not include an amendment seeking to overhaul the way the Pentagon handles sexual assault complaints, which was proposed by New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
The Gillibrand measure, which would among other things take responsibility for prosecuting such cases out of the hands of the military chain of command, is opposed by most Pentagon leaders and the committee heads but has attracted fairly wide support among lawmakers.
However, Levin said, the compromise bill includes 20 other provisions to address issues of sexual assault in the military.
Congress has managed to pass a National Defense Authorization Act authorizing spending for the military every year for 52 years, in a rare exception to the partisan gridlock that has stalled most other legislation.
Levin and James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate committee, both said a version of the bill must pass Congress this month rather than when the House and Senate return from their holiday breaks in January.
Among other things, they said failure to pass the measure could interrupt the pay of troops who are now in combat.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Christopher Wilson and Jackie Frank)