Senate Sends FY2021 NDAA and One-Week CR to the President

Senate Sends FY2021 NDAA and One-Week CR to the President

The Senate passed two important pieces of legislation today after a Senator who had been filibustering one of them relented. The bills already passed the House, so now go to President Trump for signature. He is threatening to veto one of them, the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but is expected to sign the other, a one-week extension of a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating until December 18. [Update: Trump signed the CR.]

Congress has not cleared any of the 12 regular FY2021 appropriations bills yet. FY2021 began on October 1 and the government has been operating under a CR that keeps government agencies essentially funded at their prior year levels.  That CR expires at midnight tonight, so if a new bill is not signed by then, the government will shut down.

On Wednesday, the House passed a one-week extension from December 11 to December 18 and the Senate followed suit this afternoon after Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) ended his filibuster against the NDAA, which was preventing action on the CR (H.R. 8900).

House and Senate leadership are hoping agreement can be reached on the appropriations bills and another COVID-19 relief bill before this CR expires next Friday. The House passed 10 of the 12 appropriations bills this summer, but the Senate did not pass any. It did not even consider any of the bills in committee. Instead, it is using the draft bills developed behind the scenes as their negotiating documents with the House. Some progress has been made on finalizing those bills, which apparently will be combined into a single “omnibus” bill, but last week House and Senate leadership decided to try and add another COVID relief measure to that same package. Negotiations on the COVID bill are on-again, off-again, so plans may change.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) filibustering the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act on the Senate floor, December 10, 2020.

Meanwhile, the Senate passed the final version of the NDAA, H.R. 6395, today by a vote of 84-13 despite Trump’s threat to veto the bill because it requires DOD to rename military installations currently named in honor of Confederate soldiers and does not repeal a provision in an unrelated law, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, that provides liability protection to Internet companies for content posted by third parties. Paul’s filibuster yesterday and this morning was unrelated to those issues. He objects to language limiting Trump’s ability to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan.

The House passed the NDAA on Tuesday also by a wide margin, 335-78-1. Both are characterized as veto-proof because it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto and both passed by much larger margins.  However, voting to pass a bill is a different political calculus that voting to override a veto, especially by a president of one’s own party.  Only 40 Republicans voted against the NDAA in the House, but many more could decide to support the President’s veto if it comes to that.  House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), one of Trump’s strongest allies in the House, already said that although he voted for the bill he would oppose overriding a veto.

Some of Trump’s strongest supporters in the Senate are determined to see the bill enacted, however, including Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Even the two Georgia Republican Senators who are counting on Trump’s support in their run-off elections January 5, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, voted in favor of the NDAA today. All three have issued statements that they agree entirely with Trump’s positions against renaming the bases and in favor of repealing Section 230, but insist the NDAA is too important to sacrifice because of just those two matters.

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