With just a few legislative days left in the year the Senate late Thursday passed a defense bill that includes provisions for dealing with sexual assault cases on military bases, a measure pushed by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Washington bureau reporter Geoff Bennett filed the following report.
In order for the Pentagon to get a Littoral combat ship or F-35 jets it wants Congress, which holds the purse strings, has to provide the money.
And Congress gave the okay as the Defense Authorization Act advanced through the Senate. The bill sets military policy and authorizes over $550 billion in spending for national defense and another $80 billion for military operations overseas.
Included in the funding are pay increases and health care benefits for military service members.
"There’s another special provision in this bill that deals with sexual assault on our bases. It takes away a commander’s ability to change a guilty verdict. It also requires an outside panel to look if a commander decides not to hold a hearing," said Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina.
But it does not take sexual assault cases out of the chain of command as New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand proposed.
The traditionally bipartisan defense bill got caught in the political divide. Republicans accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of trying to jam the bill through the Senate after he prevented senators from considering additional amendments.
"The majority leader made clear he wasn’t going to allow any other amendments -- except of his own choosing. Thus denying the minority any opportunity to help amend and improve the Defense Authorization bill – one of the moist important pieces of legislation this body takes up every year," said Senator John Cornyn of Texas.
The House overwhelmingly approved the defense bill last week. A failure by Congress to pass the measure could have interrupted pay for troops who are fighting overseas.
The defense bill now moves to President Barack Obama’s desk for a signature.