The U.S. Senate voted to delay defense legislation that sets policy goals and spending targets for the year, just hours after approving a historic change to filibuster rules in what critics called "the nuclear option."
The chamber on Thursday voted 51-44 against moving forward with the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act. Sixty votes were needed to end debate and send the bill to a conference committee to reconcile legislative differences between House and Senate. Lawmakers then left for an 11-day Thanksgiving Day recess.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, vowed to press for passage of the bill before the end of the year, despite Republican outrage over Democrats' decision to partially amend the centuries-old rules for filibuster so judicial appointments can be approved with a simple majority.
"Given the importance of this bill to our troops, their families, and our national security, I’m nowhere close to giving up on completing the defense authorization bill, even though we will only have days, not weeks, to complete it," Levin said in an e-mailed statement.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the top Republican on the Senate panel, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the House panel, "are equally determined" to see passage of the defense bill, Levin said.
The legislation covers fiscal 2014, which began Oct. 1. The Defense Department and other government agencies are being funded at about the previous year's levels under a stop-gap funding measure known as a continuing resolution. While they remain at an impasse over taxes and spending, both chambers of Congress are in talks to develop a full-year budget as part of an agreement to end last month's 16-day government shutdown.
Republicans and Democrats have united to pass an annual defense authorization bill for more than half a century, McKeon said in an e-mailed statement.
"Time is running short to reach an agreement this year, but it has not yet run out," he said. "There are still pathways to passage for this vital bill. We urge the Senate to resume NDAA consideration as soon as they return from their Thanksgiving recess."
The Defense Department requested $527 billion for its base budget in fiscal 2014 and $79 billion for overseas contingency operations, including the war in Afghanistan.
The House in mid-June passed a defense authorization bill that included the base budget request and $86 billion for war funding. The Senate committee approved a version of the legislation that included the same amount for the base budget and a war budget of $81 billion.
Senators have submitted hundreds of amendments to the legislation, many in the last week, contributing to the delay. The provisions range from stripping a commanders' authority in handling sex-assault cases to limiting funding for plans to retire the A-10 attack plane.
The Defense Department faces $500 billion in automatic cuts through fiscal 2021. That's in addition to almost $500 billion in defense reductions already included in 2011 deficit-reduction legislation. The first installment of the across-the-board cuts totaled $37 billion and began March 1 after lawmakers were unable to reach an alternative agreement on taxes and spending. The next round totals $52 billion and is set to take effect Jan. 1.