GOP senators attack top Democrat for defense bill delay
Republicans angrily denounced the Senate's top Democrat Wednesday for delaying debate on defense policy legislation, calling Sen. Harry Reid's leadership "cancerous" and saying he was holding up the $602 billion bill to preserve his "sad, sorry legacy."
Reid also came under fire for saying the bill was crafted "behind closed doors and in secret sessions" by the Armed Services Committee chairman, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona. Reid said senators needed more time to examine the more than 1,600-page bill before being asked to vote on it.
The criticism turned personal when Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said Reid was delaying the bill only to preserve his "sad, sorry legacy." Cotton, who served on active duty as an Army officer in Iraq and Afghanistan before being elected to Congress, said Reid's accusation that McCain wrote the bill in secret was "outrageous slander."
"The happy by-product of fewer days in session in the Senate is that this institution will be cursed less with his cancerous leadership," Cotton said of Reid in a verbal assault unusual for a chamber that reveres decorum.
McCain said all 12 Democrats on the Armed Services Committee voted two weeks ago in favor of reporting the bill to the full Senate. He also said lawmakers have had ample time to review the legislation.
But Reid, a Nevada Democrat, refused to budge, which means the Senate's consideration of the bill may now be delayed until early June when the Senate returns from a weeklong break. He also raised objections to McCain's plan to seek an increase of as much as $18 billion in defense spending, saying that domestic programs also are in dire need of more money.
"Republicans refuse to provide the needed funding to fight the Zika virus, to stop the plague of opioid abuse, to help repair the drinking water of Flint, Michigan, or to provide additional funding for local law enforcement, our intelligence agencies, and our first responders," Reid said. "That's just wrong."
Overall, the defense policy bill the Senate will take up provides $602 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 for the Defense Department and nuclear weapons programs managed by the Energy Department.
The legislative package prohibits the Obama administration from transferring detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States, requires women to register for a potential military draft, and proposes numerous changes to the military health system to improve the quality of care.
McCain and other senators said they also will seek to preserve a program that issues visas to Afghan civilians who assisted the American-led coalition as interpreters, firefighters and construction workers so they can resettle in the United States.
The top U.S. officer in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, has warned that these workers are viewed as traitors by the Taliban for siding with the coalition and are in danger of being harmed or killed if Congress cancels the visa program.
But critics of the program have said it could cost as much as $446 million over the next 10 years and could lead to an exodus of talented, educated Afghans from a country in need of their skills.
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