WASHINGTON - The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is warning Congress that failure to act on a defense policy bill before year's end would create more uncertainty for the military and undercut the nation's commanders.
Ramping up pressure on House and Senate leaders, the Pentagon appealed Monday for quick action on a bill that would raise military pay, fund ships and aircraft, and deal with the cost of the war in Afghanistan.
With legislation stalled in the Senate, Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have reached agreement on a compromise measure totaling $632.8 billion, including $80.7 billion for overseas operations such as the conflict in Afghanistan.
Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said there wasn't enough time to go through the regular process and pleaded with colleagues to back the compromise without amendments.
"It is not a Democratic bill. It is not a Republican bill. It is a bipartisan defense bill," Levin said on the Senate floor.
The committee leaders want the House to vote before it adjourns at week's end and are pressing for Senate action by the end of the year. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey wrote to House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), and other leaders urging prompt action and detailing special pay, bonuses, and other authorities that would expire if the bill slipped to January.
If the House votes this week on the compromise and then adjourns, the Senate would still have the opportunity to amend the measure. That would definitely delay the bill until next year as the House would have no time to respond to the Senate changes.
The compromise bill seeks to address the epidemic of sexual assault in the ranks.
The bill would strip commanders of their ability to overturn jury convictions and mandate that anyone convicted of sexual assault would face a dishonorable discharge or dismissal. The bill also would require a civilian review when a decision is made not to prosecute a case, provide a special counsel for victims, and eliminate the statute of limitations for courts-martial.
These provisions were part of the bills that emerged from the committees in the weeks after the Pentagon estimated that 26,000 members of the military may have been sexually assaulted last year, though thousands were afraid to come forward.
The bill would bar transfers of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay to the facilities in the United States, an extension of current law. But it would give the Obama administration more flexibility in sending suspects to foreign countries.