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Washington — In the final hours of the 111th Congress, the Senate Wednesday approved the bill to set defense policy and authorize funding for the Pentagon, staving off potential criticism about the relevance of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

If the defense authorization bill for the 2011 fiscal year had succumbed to one of the many roadblocks in its way, it would have been the first failure to approve such a measure in nearly 50 years.

The House still must give its final approval because the Senate removed a provision that would have provided reparations to war survivors in Guam. But that approval was expected yet sometime Wednesday.

The bill, passed by unanimous consent in the Senate, came to the brink Tuesday night over a last-minute amendment by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that would have allowed the military service chiefs to weigh in on whether ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy banning gays serving openly in the military should be repealed. The amendment was dropped after Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) objected.

It was another in a long line of delays and near-death experiences for the legislation.

In May, when the Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version, Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) was more gloomy than usual about its prospects. Divisions over the repeal of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’, to be signed Wednesday by President Barack Obama, were just the tip of the iceberg.

The bill also included all kinds of provisions that complicated its approval.

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