Budget, defense bills face challenges in the Senate

Racing against the clock and GOP concerns, the Senate has one week to pass a budget and a defense bill before adjourning for the rest of the year. The upper chamber won't bother trying to pass the temporary farm bill that passed in the House on Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said.

The GOP-led House on Thursday managed to pass a two-year budget agreement, a comprehensive defense policy bill, and a 30-day extension of the farm bill, crossing off a few of the major items on Congress' to-do list.

The onus is now on the Democratic-led Senate, which plans on adjourning at the end of next week. Reid said Friday that the Senate will take up the budget bill on Tuesday and the defense bill on Wednesday. Before then, it will focus on confirming executive branch nominations.

Even though the budget agreement passed with the support of a majority of House Republicans, Senate Republicans will insist on getting 60 votes for the measure to pass. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, opposes the measure, explaining in a statement that the deal eliminates the minority party's ability to raise a point of order (thus requiring 60 votes) for spending above the budget if that spending is paid for with tax increases. "I regret to say that this bill clearly and unequivocally undermines the ability of the Senate to maintain agreed-upon statutory spending limits. It legitimizes tax and spend," he said.

Still, with most Democrats expected to support the budget deal, it's possible enough moderate Republicans could join them to break a filibuster. When asked whether there would be enough votes to pass the bill, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., "I'm confident we will get there." Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, brokered the deal with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The House also overwhelmingly passed the defense policy bill, authorizing $552.1 billion for the 2014 fiscal year, plus $80.7 billion for overseas conflicts. The legislation is a serious priority for both chambers -- even amid past partisan battles, Congress has managed to pass a defense authorization bill for the past 51 consecutive years.

However, Reid on Thursday reiterated that Republicans would not be able to offer any amendments to the bill.

Meanwhile, the House bill includes a number of provisions to address the sexual assault crisis in the military, but it does not include the proposal from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to give military prosecutors -- instead of commanders -- the authority to prosecute sexual assault crimes. Instead, the bill would bar military commanders from overturning jury convictions and require a civilian review process if a commander refuses to prosecute a case, among other things.

The House on Thursday also passed a 30-day extension of the farm bill, giving negotiators through January to work out their differences over the commodities portion of the bill. However, Reid said on Tuesday that the Senate wouldn't extend current law in place of agreeing to a new farm bill.

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