The Senate approved the National Defense Authorization Act on an
84-15 vote, sending the measure to President Barack Obama for his
signature after 30 hours of deliberation that involved very little
debate and much expression of anger by lawmakers barred from
"This is a big, important, profoundly significant piece of
legislation, yet it's being jammed through here in about 24 hours
without any opportunity to offer amendments," said Republican
Senator John Cornyn of Texas.
Some lawmakers accused the chamber's Democratic leadership of
stifling debate to avoid a measure on new Iran sanctions that might
embarrass the Obama administration at a time when it is trying to
negotiate a solution to Tehran's nuclear program.
Determined to have a debate anyway, Republican Senators John McCain
and Lindsay Graham engaged in a discussion about Iran's nuclear
enrichment, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes but
Washington believes is aimed at developing nuclear arms.
"Here's the basic question for us as a nation and the world at
large: Do you believe the Iranians when they say they're not trying
to develop a nuclear weapon ... ? Do you believe them when they make
that claim given the reality of their enrichment program, their
lying, their cheating," Graham asked.
The legislation approved by the Senate is a huge bill that
authorizes everything from overall defense spending levels and
military pay to procurement of weapons systems and military-related
foreign policy issues.
This year's final measure included more than 30 provisions aimed at
overhauling the military's response to sex crimes, giving greater
support to victims and reforming the military justice code to enable
a tougher response to the crime.
Senator Clair McCaskill, who had advocated additional changes that
were not included in the final bill, said the measure represented "a
huge win" for sexual assault victims but added "this is no finish
"In the months and years ahead, vigilance will be required to ensure
that these historic reforms are implemented forcefully and
effectively," she said.
The reforms strip commanders of their power to overturn the
sentences of a trial by court martial. They eliminate a five-year
statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault and establish
minimum sentencing guidelines for those found guilty of sex crimes.
[to top of second column]
The changes also will ensure victims are represented by special
attorneys to help them protect their own rights. And they make
retaliation against people who report sexual offenses a separate
The bill did not include an additional proposal by Senator Kristen
Gillibrand, who is seeking to put decisions about prosecuting sex
crimes in the hands of specialized attorneys rather than a victim's
commanders, a measure opposed by military leaders.
The bill includes authorizations for the Pentagon to help in the
effort to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, as well as
funding to pay for the effort.
The act makes it easier for the White House to transfer prisoners in
the U.S. war against al Qaeda from the facility at Guantanamo Bay,
Cuba, to countries willing to accept them.
The act authorizes a Pentagon base budget of $526.8 billion in the
2014 fiscal year. But that amount is about $28 billion more than the
$498 billion agreed under the bipartisan budget deal approved by
Congress this week and will have to be reconciled in a final
appropriations bill early next year.
The authorizations included $17.6 billion for U.S. nuclear weapons
programs in the Energy Department and $80.7 billion for the war in
Afghanistan and other overseas operations.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
[© 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2013 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.