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POLITICS: PennAve

Senate overwhelmingly approves NDAA, sends to president for signature

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In a late night vote Thursday, the Senate approved the Pentagon's annual policy bill, sending it to the White House for the president's signature just days before the last of the lawmakers left Washington, D.C., for the year.

The bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, was passed by a vote of 84-15, and included White House-approved provisions that would ease restrictions on the transfer of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to third-party countries and make changes in the way the military justice system deals with sexual assault cases.

But the passage of the bill, successfully approved for its 52nd year in a row, led to praise from Republicans as well.

"Our constitutional duty in Congress is to provide for the nation's defense and this year's NDAA contains many provisions that fulfill this solemn responsibility," said the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma.

Added Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., "The Senate vote is a strong bipartisan statement that, despite our differences, we can come together and accomplish important business for the good of the country."

Some members, even some who eventually voted for the legislation, complained that the Senate had not properly considered changes lawmakers wanted to make to the bill before passing it.

The Senate had tried to add a provision that would impose sweeping changes on the military justice system's handling of sexual assault cases, but it was ultimately excluded from the bill to help ensure quick passage of the bill. Smaller reforms have been included in the bill with the backing of the White House and President Obama said Friday that he had ordered the Pentagon to conduct a year-long review to determine whether additional changes are needed in its justice system.

Obama gave Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, until next December to complete the reivew. "If I do not see the kind of progress I expect, then we will consider additional reforms that may be required to eliminate this crime from our military ranks," Obama said.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, voted against the bill, citing his concern that Congress has not explicitly prohibited the president from detaining American citizens without due process or a trial.

"I promised the people of Texas I would oppose any National Defense Authorization Act that did not explicitly prohibit the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens," he said after the vote. "Although this legislation does contain several positive provisions that I support, it does not ensure our most basic rights as American citizens are protected."

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