"How many more victims are required to suffer? "¦ How many lives must be ruined before we act?" Republican Sen. Susan Collins asked at a press conference with other senators.
Republican Sen. Dean Heller acknowledged that supporters face a tough fight and a short timeline, but said that "we're going to continue to push." Yet if Gillibrand's amendment gets a vote, Sen. John McCain said he also wants a measure on sending arms to Ukraine, which could further complicate passage.
The bill also reauthorizes for two years the training and equipping of moderate Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State—authority that is now set to expire Dec. 11. In addition, it authorizes sending troops to Iraq to train and assist forces there.
The bill outlined by committee staffers is a compromise between the House and Senate Armed Services panels, which had been stuck on a Pentagon proposal to limit pharmacy and housing benefits as a cost-saving measure. House members opposed the cuts, but reached a deal whereby pharmacy co-pays will see a one-year increase of $3 and housing allowances will see a 1 percent decrease.
More long-term cuts—such as those outlined by the Defense Department—will be settled in coming years following a report from the Commission on Compensation and Benefits.
The proposed NDAA authorizes a base discretionary budget of $521 billion, $17.9 billion of which is designated for the Energy Department. The bill includes $63.7 billion for the overseas contingency operations budget. Of that, $3.4 billion is designated for U.S. operations in Iraq and Syria, while $1.6 billion is pegged for training and equipping Iraqi troops.
Staffers also said the bill includes nearly a dozen sexual-assault provisions, many of them lifted from Sen. Claire McCaskill's reform bill earlier this year. Those provisions do not address Gillibrand's chain-of-command concerns.
The bill will likely limit President Obama's ability to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, a longtime administration priority. White House press secretary Josh Earnest didn't indicate Tuesday whether the president would veto the bill if the Guantanamo language is included. "We're going to evaluate the whole package," Earnest said.
Committee aides said the bill is expected to pass the House later this week. "I don't think there's any issues [with passage] in the House at all," said a House staffer.
Gillibrand has been down this path before with her quest to pass the Military Justice Improvement Act. Last year, she tried to get the reform proposal included in the defense bill as an amendment, but, similarly, a closed amendment process blocked her path. And in March, senators voted down a motion to proceed on Gillibrand's legislation, delaying her effort.
Instead, lawmakers passed a military sexual-assault reform bill sponsored by McCaskill. Gillibrand said that bill and other reform efforts were "good steps forward," but she added that the way sexual-assault cases have been handled over the past year shows "that they still don't get it."