Reid 'Fills the Tree' to Block Iran Sanctions Amendment on Defense Bill

WASHINGTON -- A host of key amendments to the defense reauthorization bill will not be allowed when the spending measure comes up for a cloture vote on Wednesday, and Senate Republicans charge it's because Democratic leaders want to avoid a potentially embarrassing vote for the Obama administration.

"We will tomorrow turn to a defense authorization bill that's been handled in such a way that there have essentially been no amendments. This is obviously to protect the administration from having a vote on enhanced sanctions on Iran," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters after a closed policy luncheon on the Hill today.

"But it also disadvantages all the members of the Senate on both the Democrat and Republican side, so the effort, once again, will be to fill up the tree, prevent members from offering amendments, jam it through, centralize the power in the majority leader's office," he added.

That is especially irritating Republicans after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) detonated the nuclear option for President Obama's nominees and has been trying to shuffle as many of those votes through the upper chamber as possible before the Senate leaves for the holiday break at the end of the week. Republicans have been filling up much of the debate time allotted per nominee to bite back at Reid for the nuclear deployment.

McConnell noted that none of the nominees "were emergencies, instead of doing something like having amendments on the defense bill."

"So as we end the year, it's a tragedy the way the Senate is being run into the ground by basically one person. And I hope that one of the majority leader's New Year's resolutions is going to be to operate the Senate in a quite different manner. It's going to be hard to get the Senate back to normal. It's only been a few years ago under different leadership, when we were open for amendment, members got a chance to express themselves," he said.

"We got a great number of members now on both sides of the aisle who wonder why they're here. Work they do in committee is rarely, if ever paid attention to. No amendments are allowed on the floor. The power's all centralized in the office of one person. It's a big step in the wrong direction for our country, and it can really be changed essentially by the behavior of one person. This one person changing behavior can move the Senate back in a different direction."

Reid also filled the "amendment tree" on the Murray-Ryan budget agreement, meaning that no further amendments can be offered.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) moved this afternoon to allow amendments on the budget bill, but that went down 46-54.

"It's awfully hard to believe that in the great Senate… we have one leader of the Senate supported by his colleagues who says we don't want to take amendments because we don't want to take tough votes," Sessions said on the floor.

Sessions noted that the defense bill is a $500 billion expenditure. "A lot of people have ideas of how to approve that bill," he said. "We're not going to get a single amendment."

"It's contrary to our tradition, it's contrary to our heritage … where open debate and discussion are so important."

The amendments that won't see the light of day include an effort to get benefits and due recognition for the victims of the terrorist attack on Fort Hood.

Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) planned to introduce the Honoring the Fort Hood Heroes Act as an amendment to the defense bill, telling PJM last month, “I think we’re going to have broad support; we just haven’t had a vehicle to get this done."

The amendment would have stipulated that the Purple Heart should be awarded to service members killed or injured in the attack, and civilians killed or wounded should get the Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom. Benefits would be the same for those killed or wounded in a combat zone, and post-traumatic stress disorder treatment would be covered.

"Sen. Cornyn believes he would have had a clear shot at getting his bill passed as an amendment to NDAA had the Majority Leader not blocked all amendments," Cornyn press secretary Jessica Sandlin told PJM this afternoon. "He will be looking into additional ways to apply pressure on the DoD to put political correctness aside and expedite the process to finally award the Purple Hearts to the victims of the terrorist attack at Fort Hood."