Senate Republicans on Monday blocked forward progress on the long-stalled defense policy bill as the chamber careens toward the end of the year with no sign of an agreement on the must-pass legislation in sight.
Both parties hoped to make progress early this week on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) after months of bipartisan frustration over the Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer’s delays in bringing the bill to the floor.
But Republicans say they won’t proceed unless guaranteed a floor debate on a slew of GOP amendments.
“Despite the strong bipartisan work of our colleagues on the Armed Services Committee, the Democratic Leader kept this year’s defense authorization bill in limbo for months, and now wants to block the Senate from a real debate and a real amendment process,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Monday.
The New York Democrat was quick to fire back his Republican colleagues.
“This is an example of dysfunction on the Republican side,” Mr. Schumer said. “Leaders of both parties when we’ve had bills like this, have had to tell certain members, ‘you can’t get certain amendments.’”
“Not everyone can get every amendment they want,” he said.
Lawmakers have piled on more than 900 amendments to the already colossal bill in recent weeks, setting the stage for a potentially lengthy process to get the measure over the finish line.
Among the flashpoints this year is an amendment to strike language already passed by the full House and the Senate Armed Services Committee that would for the first time in history require young women as well as men to register with Selective Service and be subject to the military draft if it is reinstated.
Republicans are also demanding consideration of an amendment that would impose sanctions on Russia’s nearly operational Nord Stream 2 undersea gas pipeline into Germany, in a last-ditch attempt to thwart the Kremlin’s dominance over European energy markets.
The Senate and House versions of the bill also include language to boost next year’s defense budget by $25 billion, a key win for Republicans and a setback for House progressives who fought for a lower spending total.
Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, introduced a measure in the Senate to block the $25 billion increase and reduce the Pentagon budget below Mr. Biden’s proposal.
Critics have long said presidents of both parties have used the authorizations to launch military action far beyond what the measures originally envisioned.
Congress has passed the bill on a bipartisan basis for six decades, making it a popular vehicle to major policy and spending changes in the Defense Department and beyond.
But the NDAA is now one of many must-pass bills the Senate needs to get over the finish line in the next few weeks — including measures to avoid a looming government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.
Still, Republicans show no signs of jamming the defense bill through without a robust debate on amendments.
“I think Americans back home are smart enough to understand that our service members deserve more,” said Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “They deserve to be our priority in the Senate, and we need to show them that by providing a robust and open debate on the annual defense bill.”
• Joseph Clark can be reached at email@example.com.
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