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Schumer seeks to eliminate ‘toxic’ issues that could torpedo Pentagon bill

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Schumer swept House Republicans in a statement late Monday, calling the upper house’s $886 billion bill “the finest example” of bipartisanship on national security issues and “a stark contrast to the proposed law that came out of the House”. The New York Democrat also called on both parties to reject the sweeping measures included in the House bill.

“As the NDAA comes to the ground this week, some may attempt to add controversial and partisan amendments that would threaten that unity,” Schumer said. “Both parties must work to defeat any potentially toxic amendments that could compromise the Senate’s NDAA if passed.”

The bill faces its first hurdle with a procedural vote Tuesday night that requires a majority of 60 votes. Once the legislation crosses that bar, Senate leaders will aim to piece together a package of bipartisan, non-controversial amendments while Schumer and the Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attempt to strike a deal for votes on more contentious proposals.

Once the full Senate approves the measure, House and Senate Armed Forces leaders will then attempt to reconcile their competing bills into a compromise that can be passed by both houses and that President Joe Biden can sign.

The most conservative proposals the bill passed by the House are almost certain to be defeated in the Democratic-led Senate, where 60 votes are needed to push the legislation forward. The search for a bipartisan consensus generally means that proposals from the far right and the left are not in favor.

Yet the Senate has been upset by its own fight against Pentagon policies to allow furloughs and reimburse travel expenses for troops crossing state lines to get abortions. Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) is delaying hundreds of senior military promotions in an effort to reverse policy. There is no end in sight to the months-long stalemate.

Republicans are likely to push for a vote to overturn the policy under the defense bill, even if it cannot garner the 60 votes that would be needed to pass. Tuberville also signaled that a vote on the policy is not enough to convince him to drop his blockade.

Other tough votes could also be on deck, including limiting the Pentagon’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, increasing or cutting the Pentagon’s budget, cutting aid to the Ukraine or at least the strengthening of aid monitoring.

Republicans, led by a member of the Senate Armed Services ranking Roger Osier of Mississippi, are already touting several conservative political victories that they included in the upper house defense bill.

Legislation approved by the committee prohibits the creation of positions or the filling of vacancies related to diversity, equity and inclusion until the Government Accountability Office reviews the Pentagon’s workforce for these programs. It also caps the salaries of public servants who deal with diversity and inclusion issues. Wicker also added a provision that requires all actions of Pentagon personnel to be based on individual merit and performance.

The GOP senators also included measures to compel the Pentagon to dispose of unused border wall materials it currently stores and develop a plan to combat drug and human trafficking at the U.S.-Mexico border. .

And while the bill doesn’t affect Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s abortion policy, it does require a Pentagon briefing on the matter, which senators are expected to receive on Wednesday.

Much of this week’s major work will take place behind closed doors as Democratic and Republican leaders spar over which bipartisan amendments to include in a non-controversial package of proposals and which contentious measures should receive votes.

Abortion and other issues may surface, but Democrats warn attempts to roll back Pentagon policies are a dealbreaker.

Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Jack Reed (DR.I.) over the weekend said it “would be very difficult” to support a defense bill that severely limits abortion access and diversity programs.

“We will have votes on many of these topics. I don’t think the Senate will support the legislation that was enacted by the House,” Reed said on CNN. “I think it just doesn’t serve the welfare of the troops, or the professionalism and training of the forces that we need.”

Top House Democrats, meanwhile, are counting on their Senate counterparts to reject the toughest GOP proposals.

House Armed Services Democratic Ranking Adam Smith promised on Tuesday that the lower house version of the bill, which he opposed, “will not pass”. But the Washington state Democrat wondered if McCarthy, who gave in to his conservative critics on the defense bill, would allow a watered-down bill to make it to the House.

“Will Kevin McCarthy go with the overwhelming majority of the House? Where will he go with those few dozen right-wing extremists who have taken the process hostage? Smith said in a CNN interview. “Look, you take that stuff off, we got 360-370 votes for this bill.”

Andrew Zhang contributed to this report.

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