As NDAA talks drag on, Inhofe readies pared-down bill

Negotiators have largely stayed mum on unresolved conference issues

Senate Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe, left, and ranking member Sen. Jack Reed before the start of a confirmation hearing on July 31, 2019. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Senate Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe plans to introduce next week a slimmed-down version of the expansive Pentagon policy bill that includes necessary authorizations but nixes contentious language that has stalled negotiations. 

The Oklahoma Republican said in a statement Thursday the so-called “skinny” version of the bill “is not a substitute for a full bill, but it might be a necessary next step if we don’t reach an agreement soon.”

The defense authorization bill has been enacted for 58 consecutive years, giving the Armed Services committees tremendous sway over Pentagon policy and spending priorities.

Inhofe and the other leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have been huddling behind closed doors to reconcile differences in the Senate and House versions of the bill.

“My fellow conferees and I have made good progress on the fiscal year 2020 defense authorization bill, but we haven’t yet reached a final agreement. We’re not giving up,” Inhofe said. 

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Speaking Thursday at an event hosted by Ploughshares Fund, an anti-nuclear proliferation organization, Rep. Adam Smith, the Washington Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, did not object to having a backup plan. But he expressed optimism that conferees will strike a deal on a full-length NDAA.

“We certainly have our differences, we’ve communicated them to the White House, and I am confident we can resolve them,” Smith said.

President Donald Trump has threatened to veto the House version of the bill amid objections to several provisions. The measure, which typically draws broad bipartisan support, received no GOP support on the House floor.

Negotiators have largely stayed mum on unresolved conference issues. Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House panel, declined to go into detail on the state of play for specific issues during a briefing with reporters Wednesday.

Flashpoints throughout the considerations of the bills have included the use of Defense Department funds to pay for Trump’s desired border wall, congressional authorization for U.S. participation in the conflict in Yemen, policy governing nuclear weapons, and allowing transgender individuals to serve in the military.

Inhofe this week showed reporters a list of “must-have” authorities that would be included in a skinny bill.

Those include: authorization for special pay and bonuses for military personnel and pay for civilians in combat zones; procurement authorities that enable advance funding for F-35s and operations and maintenance for cyber capabilities; operational authorities for counter-ISIS efforts; and authorities for National Commissions on Artificial Intelligence, Aviation Safety, and Cyberspace.

Jacob Holzman contributed to this report.  

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