Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Senate was unable to vote on a huge range of proposed amendments to the bill in time to pass it this year, so committee leaders reached agreement on a compromise version of the legislation.
"This is not the best way to proceed, but our troops and their families and our nation's security deserve a defense bill and this is the only practical way to get a defense bill done," Levin said on the Senate floor. The defense panel leaders want a final vote in the Senate next week.
The compromise bill authorizes $552.1 billion in spending for national defense and an additional $80.7 billion for foreign military operations, including in Afghanistan. The base budget is unchanged from the 2013 bill, but war spending is $7.8 billion lower.
The defense bill does not include an amendment seeking to overhaul the way the Pentagon handles sexual assault complaints, which was proposed by New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Gillibrand has been leading the charge to take the responsibility for prosecuting sexual assault outside of the chain of command into the hands of military prosecutors. Her reforms have at least 50 supporters, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., but she has come up against Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Levin, and much of the Pentagon’s top brass. McCaskill’s competing proposal would make other reforms but leave the decision to prosecute an assault within the chain of command.
However, Levin said, the compromise bill includes 20 other provisions to address issues of sexual assault in the military.
Congress has managed to pass a National Defense Authorization Act authorizing spending for the military every year for 52 years, in a rare exception to the partisan gridlock that has stalled most other legislation.
Levin and James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate committee, both said a version of the bill must pass Congress this month rather than when the House and Senate return from their holiday breaks in January.
Among other things, they said failure to pass the measure could interrupt the pay of troops who are now in combat.