Senate barrels toward final vote on defense bill, eyeing fight with the House

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The Senate has so far sidestepped contentious debates on partisan personnel issues that could tank the bill, including the Pentagon’s abortion travel policy that has been bitterly opposed by Republicans.

House Republicans, meanwhile, passed their defense bill largely along party lines this month after loading it with conservative proposals — including blocking the abortion policy, limiting transgender medical care and throwing up roadblocks to diversity and inclusion programs in the military.

While Republicans won some provisions in the Senate bill addressing abortion and diversity efforts, the most hard-line proposals were seen as non-starters in the Democratic-led chamber.

“House Republicans should look to the Senate to see how things get done,” Schumer said on the floor Thursday. “We are passing important bipartisan legislation. They are throwing on the floor partisan legislation that has no chance of passing.”

Democrats and Republicans saw a breakthrough late Wednesday after the bill appeared stalled, hammering out a deal to vote on 11 amendments. Meanwhile, leaders on the Senate Armed Services Committee are expected to offer a bipartisan package of another 48 uncontroversial amendments.

The Senate is expected to vote on at least eight amendments starting Thursday morning. The list includes an amendment from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to slash the Pentagon budget by 10 percent. Another proposal from Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) would limit the specific flags that can be flown over public buildings, including military bases and embassies. Similar proposals have been criticized by Democrats because they would effectively ban the pride flag.

The Senate also shot down three other amendments on Wednesday evening as it inched forward.

Democrats turned back a proposal from Senate Armed Services top Republican Roger Wicker of Mississippi and ranking Senate Foreign Relations Republican Jim Risch of Idaho to designate a lead inspector general for Ukraine aid from one of the watchdogs already conducting oversight of the assistance. Senators also rejected Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) amendment to task the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction with oversight of Ukraine aid.

Senators also rejected a Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) offering on Wednesday that would have prevented the Pentagon from implementing another Covid-19 vaccine mandate and pave the way for reinstating troops who were booted from the military for refusing to get the shot.

Joe Gould contributed to this report.

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