Senate Democrats block defense bill for third time

Democrats blocked a defense spending bill for a third time on Thursday as they pushed for a deal on how to move funding legislation through the Senate.

Senators voted 51-44 in a procedural vote on taking up the $579-billion House-passed bill. Sixty votes were needed to move forward.

Democrats previously blocked the legislation in June and September while demanding a budget accord. Sen. Joe Donnelly (Ind.) was the only Democrat to vote for the legislation on Thursday.

Top Democrats this week sent strong signals that they would block the legislation over concerns that moving a stand-alone defense bill would allow Republicans to renege on a two-year budget agreement.

Republicans denied any intention to go back on the budget deal and slammed Democrats as obstructionist.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said earlier this week that the Senate “could pass a defense bill and then they could say, ‘Well, we’ll do a [continuing resolution] on the rest of it,’ violating the 50-50 deal. We need to negotiate an omnibus all at once and all together.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) added Thursday that Democrats deciding to block the bill had little to do with the substance, calling the work on it “extraordinary.”

“Now it’s going to be a procedural vote, which we would anticipate is not going to allow this bill to move forward. It is not a reflection on the substance of the bill, at all,” he added.

But the tactics got vocal pushback from Republicans, who suggested they are frustrated that Democrats continue to block the legislation despite the budget agreement passed last week.

“I’m saying don’t go there because you’re going to set in motion an irreversible course in this Senate, and I’m going to lead it,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said, adding that “we have the majority and you don’t. So if you want to play that kind of game, we can play that game too.”

Moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) added on Thursday morning that she is “truly perplexed” that Democrats are saying “there is a Republican plan to enact only the defense appropriations bill and then proceed to a continuing resolution for all of the other appropriations bills.”

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) tried to reassure Democrats on Wednesday evening saying that Republicans “have every intention of then moving on to other appropriations bills.”

“Our members worked very hard on those bills. Nearly all of the appropriations measures passed committee with support from both parties. We obviously want to process them all,” he said.

The partisan bickering comes less than a week after lawmakers came together to pass the two-year budget agreement. Under the accord, defense spending would be set at $607 billion, including $59 billion in war funding.

Lawmakers now have until mid-December to pass legislation — either individually or as an omnibus — that would fund the government and avoid a shutdown.

Lawmakers are already battling over controversial policy riders, including trying to unwind parts of ObamaCare. Democrats quickly blasted Speaker Paul Ryan, after the Wisconsin Republican refused to rule out including the policy riders during a press conference this week.

McConnell has also suggested that there will be riders in the appropriations bills, adding, “of course there will be riders in the appropriations bills. I’m having a hard time remembering one that didn’t.”

Jordain Carney