Senate To Vote On Defense Bill After Impasse, White House To Veto

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The Senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a controversial defense policy bill totaling $602 billion – a bill that the White House has repeatedly said President Barack Obama will veto due to multiple objections, reports the Associated Press.

Some of the biggest contentions on the bill include the closing of Guantanamo prison in Cuba, provisions limiting the size of the president’s National Security Council staff and impeding more military base closings. This bill must be reconciled with a version the House passed earlier this year.

The Senate came to standstill after disputes on procedure stopped debates on potential amendments to the said bill last week. This has left several items hanging, such as if a program allowing Afghan civilians in danger from the Taliban to live in the USA will push through, or if a provision compelling young women to register for a potential military draft would be enacted. The latter has been a sore point among conservatives, who think this measure would further blur gender distinctions.

The National Defense Authorization Act is an annual legislation that caters to a wide range of subjects, not all of which have to do with the Defense Department. Over 600 amendments have been filed to this year’s bill, but only a few have been considered because of what is perceived to be a breakdown in the way the Senate is supposed to conduct things.

Senator John McCain, R-Ariz. and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee has expressed his frustration over how the Senate operations has been put at an impasse, saying he would support changes to the Senate’s rules so that “one individual out of 100 can’t bring everything to a screeching halt.”

The problems began last week when Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, demanded  a vote on his provision that would prevent the US government from indefinitely detaining US citizens arrested on American soil for being sympathetic to terrorist groups. Lee refused to allow a vote on two other amendments unless the other senators agreed to vote on his.

Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also a retired Air Force lawyer, protested Lee’s amendment, saying that it could lead to terrorists being treated as criminals instead of as enemy forces. This would then prevent intelligence gathering as the suspects’ lawyers would not allow them to be interviewed.

The discussion brought further debates on other amendments to a standstill, which McCain warns could lead to life-or-death consequences in the Afghan program, which would give Afghan nationals who sided with the US forces visas. “By not allowing them to come to this country, they’re going to die,” McCain said.

The Afghans in question were interpreters, firefighters, construction workers and laborers who defied the Taliban by working for their enemy. A top commander in Afghanistan has warned that these people and their families are in constant danger of being harmed or killed if they don’t leave Afghanistan soon.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., authored an amendment that would extend this special immigrant visa program to 2017, with an additional 2,500 visas for the first fiscal year beginning on October 1.

The House version of the bill denied the request for additional visas, extending the program for another year but restricting its parameters to Afghans whose jobs would take them out of a military base or secured facility.

Another contested amendment is the expansion of the military draft to include women. McCain’s committee argued that any justification for excluding women was made null when the Pentagon lifted all gender-based restrictions on front-line combat units last year. As of now, women have never been required to register for large-scale drafts.

Senator Ben Sasse, R-Neb., thinks there should be a study of whether a draft is even necessary in the first place. His amendment would also remove the Selective Service in three years unless there are very good reasons to preserve the draft. “Why are we now fighting about drafting our sisters, our mothers, and our daughters into a draft that no one anywhere is telling us they need?” Sasse said.

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