Senate Democrats

Reid Calls on Frist to Take Up the Defense Authorization Bill

Washington, DC - Today, Democratic Leader Harry Reid called on Senator William H. Frist, the Majority Leader, to take up the Defense Authorization Bill. The text of the letter is below:

October 20, 2005

The Honorable William H. Frist
Majority Leader
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Bill:

Thank you for your letter of October 17th pertaining to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill. As you know from my previous correspondence, and from my numerous statements on the Senate floor, I strongly support this important legislation and have tried on numerous occasions to break the current impasse. Like you, I believe it would be unconscionable and unprecedented for the Senate not to act on this critical legislation. The protracted delay has not been helpful to our troops or their families. The Senate is in real danger of not acting on a defense authorization bill for the first time since we began this process over 40 years ago. That is why I have been deeply troubled by the manner in which you have handled this year’s defense bill.

Unfortunately, your October 17 letter misstates and mischaracterizes your handling of this legislation and I would like to take the opportunity to set the record straight. As you know, the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously passed the defense authorization bill on May 12, 2005. Rather than proceed immediately to this bipartisan legislation, you waited over two months – until July 20, 2005 – to bring this bill before the Senate. During that time, you asked the Senate to take up nearly ten pieces of legislation and cast numerous roll call votes on judicial and other nominees.

When you finally decided to proceed to the defense authorization bill, you prematurely sought to end debate after only a handful of days on the Senate floor and only one vote on a Democratic amendment. I must note that you did manage to get a vote on your Boy Scout amendment, an amendment that I supported but which would not be in order under the terms you have spelled out in your proposed unanimous consent for all future amendments.

When the Senate acted in a bipartisan manner and rejected your attempt to prematurely end debate on the defense bill, I proposed a unanimous consent agreement that would have permitted the Senate to conclude consideration of this bill in two days. Unfortunately, you opted to pull the defense bill from the floor before action could be completed and chose to have the Senate take up gun liability legislation.

In the three months since you pulled the defense bill in favor of gun legislation, you have had ample opportunities to bring the bill back before the Senate. Unfortunately you have rejected each opportunity and made it clear you believe other legislation is more important. Since late July, you have asked the Senate to take action on more than a dozen pieces of legislation. During this entire period you continued to assert that the defense bill was an important priority but that there was not sufficient time on the Senate’s schedule to take up this bill.

In yet another effort to break the impasse, on September 30th I proposed a unanimous consent agreement that would have permitted the Senate to complete action on the defense bill in a matter of days. Under my proposal, each side would be limited to 12 contested amendments, all within the jurisdiction of the Armed Services Committee, except for one which would relate to Hurricane Katrina. Each contested amendment, including the one related to Katrina, would be limited to no more than one hour of debate, equally divided, and any second degree amendments would have to be relevant to the first degree amendments. Regrettably, my offer was again rejected.

Those are the facts leading up to this current impasse. They demonstrate that you have had more than four months since the Armed Services Committee acted unanimously to find time on the Senate’s schedule to debate this important bill. They demonstrate that you saw fit to ask the Senate to take action on more than two dozen pieces of legislation and consider numerous judicial and other nominees instead of the Defense Authorization bill. They demonstrate that during that time the Senate cast more than 130 roll call votes at the same time you limited Democrats to a single vote on the defense bill. And they demonstrate you repeatedly rejected offers that would have completed the defense bill in a matter of days.

These actions contrast starkly with your assertions that you are strongly committed to passing the defense authorization bill and that we do not have time to consider a proposal to establish an independent commission to help the American people understand how their government failed them during Hurricane Katrina and what needs to be done to prevent future failures. It appears the actual reason my previous unanimous consent proposal was rejected is because the Bush Administration objects to the establishment of an independent commission to investigate Hurricane Katrina and, unfortunately, you are prepared to bring down the entire defense bill in order to protect the Administration from scrutiny for its missteps on this matter. That is unfortunate.

Nevertheless, I am willing to revise my previous unanimous consent request so that all 12 contested amendments are within the jurisdiction of the Armed Services Committee, with each amendment subject to the limitations outlined above. My proposal assumes that the managers of this legislation will be free to clear additional amendments. I hope you will now proceed immediately to consideration of the Department of Defense Authorization bill. Further delay is not in the interest of our troops or our nation.

Again, I thank you for your letter, and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Harry Reid
U.S. Senate

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