In a last ditch effort to save a crucial defense spending bill, known as the Defense Authorization Act, Fox has learned that the chairmen and Ranking Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committee have agreed to strip out controversial items from the bill, including the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, federal money for abortions at military facilities, and money for an alternate engine for the F-35, a provision that engendered a White House veto threat.
"We have stripped out all the controversial language," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Wednesday, adding that he is "confident" the bill will be considered in the lame duck session.
A senior Senate GOP aide tells Fox, "The (bipartisan group) all signed on to the slimmed down bill. We plan on putting out a statement soon."
The legislation must pass with the unanimous approval of every member in the Senate due to the abbreviated legislative calendar, a move that the chairman called "tough," but with the bipartisan approval of the top four members of the defense panels, the chance of passage increases.
Congress has, for 49 years, passed a defense authorization bill, a popular piece of legislation that contains a pay raise for troops, money for the Armed Services Retirement Home and the Defense Health Program, and funds for education and training, among many items.
A stand-alone measure to repeal the 1993 "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, the military's ban on gays serving openly in the armed forces, is expected to pass the House Wednesday and should then be taken up by the Senate in the lame duck session. That bill appears to have the 60 votes needed for passage, though the dwindling time on the calendar could affect support. Republican supporters of repeal, like Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., have said they support repeal but want to have time for debate and consideration of amendments by opponents of the measure.