Monday, October 5, 2009

Compromise Version of Defense Measure Expected Soon

Oct. 5, 2009 – 2:19 p.m.

The House plans to name its conferees for the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill Tuesday, perhaps setting the stage for final action on the legislation by the end of the week.

Aides said conferees are expected to meet just once, on Oct. 7, signaling that House and Senate authorizers have figured out how to reconcile their differences on several important issues. If all goes according to plan, the House would take up the conference report Oct. 8.

Lawmakers and aides have been meeting since late July to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill, which authorizes national security programs run by the Defense and Energy departments.

The House-passed version would authorize expenditures totalling $680.5 billion, while the Senate version would authorize $679.8 billion. Both measures would authorize a 3.4 percent pay raise for the military. President Obama requested a 2.9 percent increase.

Conferees have been grappling with whether to retain a Senate provision unrelated to defense that would extend federal hate-crime laws to offenses motivated by the gender identity, sexual orientation or disability of victims. Two years ago, defense conferees dropped a similar provision out of concern that it could jeopardize final action on the bill, particularly in the House.

Conferees also have confronted whether to authorize continued spending on a second type of engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as the House prefers, or to allow funding for only one engine, as the White House and Senate want.

The House bill, but not the Senate version, would restrict Obama’s ability to move detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from being released into the United States or transferred to U.S. jails until the president submits a plan to Congress. Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee fought to make the transfer provisions more stringent and are likely to raise the issue again in conference.

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