An amendment that would prevent the government from working with contractors who denied victims of assault the right to bring their case to court is in danger of being watered down or stripped entirely from a larger defense appropriations bill.
Multiple sources have told the Huffington Post that Sen. Dan Inouye, a longtime Democrat from Hawaii, is considering removing or altering the provision, which was offered by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and passed by the Senate several weeks ago.
Inouye's office, sources say, has been lobbied by defense contractors adamant that the language of the Franken amendment would leave them overly exposed to lawsuits and at constant risk of having contracts dry up. The Senate is considering taking out a provision known as the Title VII claim, which (if removed) would allow victims of assault or rape to bring suit against the individual perpetrator but not the contractor who employed him or her.
"The defense contractors have been storming his office," said a source with knowledge of the situation. "Inouye either will get the amendment taken out altogether, or water it down significantly. If they water it down, they will take out the Title VII claims. This means that in discrimination cases, they will still force you into a secret forced arbitration on KBR's (or other contractors') own terms -- with your chances of prevailing practically zero. The House seems to be very supportive of the original Franken amendment and all in line, but their hands are tied since it originated in the Senate. And since Inouye runs the show on this bill, he can easily take it out to get Republicans and the defense contractors off his back, which looks increasingly likely."
A Democratic aide on the Hill, also with knowledge of the situation, confirmed the account, as did a source who works on defense contracting matters outside of Congress. "The contractors are putting on a full-court press on this amendment... they are all doing it," said the latter source.
A spokesman for the Senate Committee on Appropriations said that "the committee does not comment on ongoing conference negotiations." But another source with knowledge of the situation stressed that it was premature to say that any decision has been made. Indeed, even the Hill source said that the situation is fluid and could change before the bill is sent out of committee -- likely in the next few days.
The decision on what to do with Franken's amendment is being made in conference committee with the House of Representatives, which severely limits the number of lawmakers who can weigh in on the matter.
The second-longest-serving member of the United States Senate, Inouye is a veteran of WWII. The chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, he has received $294,900 in donations from the defense and aerospace industries over the course of his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Franken's amendment passed the Senate on October 21, 2009 by a voting margin of 68 to 30. The 30 Republicans who opposed the provision were widely pilloried in the press. But they were actually joined in some of their concerns by the Obama administration's Department of Defense, which worried that "enforcement would be problematic, especially in cases where privity of contract does not exist between parties within the supply chain that supports a contract."
The White House, for its part, told HuffPost it supports the intent of the amendment and it is "working with the conferees to make sure that it is enforceable," said spokesman Tommy Vietor.