NDAA heads to conference after budget deal

Despite a tentative two-year budget deal, House leaders are preparing for a tough conference to reconcile differences with the Senate's version of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Now that White House and congressional leaders have tentatively agreed to a two-year budget deal on military spending, House Armed Services Committee members are preparing for a long conference to reconcile differences with the Senate's version of the 2020 defense authorization bill.

The committee’s ranking member, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), told reporters during a July 24 briefing that although he supports the budget deal, “it does not fund defense at numbers I would like,” namely because it doesn’t account for inflation.

“It is 3% real growth, not 3% real growth. And so you have inflation eating into some of the buying power of this number,” he said, adding that the $5 billion increase to the House-passed bill would help ensure readiness.

Ultimately, Thornberry said, “$738 billion on time is more valuable than $750 billion in December or January after you’ve gone through a [continuing resolution] and had all of the uncertainty that goes with that.” The two-year budget deal has the added benefit of lasting through fiscal 2021 and a potentially chaotic election year, he added.

In recent months, Defense Department officials have stressed the need for on-time funding, but despite the deal, which still has to be voted on, lingering issues continue to hinder passage of the 2020 defense authorization bill.

A spokesperson for Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the committee’s chairman, said the debate over the topline budget would still be a concern heading into conference.

“The Senate marks were consistent with $750 billion; the House marks were consistent with $733 billion,” the spokesperson said. “With the budget deal in place at $738 billion -- which is a little more than a 3% increase from [fiscal 2019] -- both chambers will examine how to align the funding tables with that number.”

“Unless a lot of the provisions that were added in the House get dropped in conference, a conference report could not possibly pass the Senate, much less get to the president,” Thornberry said.

In addition to the topline number, he also expressed concerns about how the $733 billion would be spent and problems with amendments added on the House floor before the bill’s passage. “That’s what the conference will have to go through,” he said, without citing specific issues.

NDAA dissenters will likely be worried about debt and spending questions, Thornberry said, adding that it was “easier to vote no than yes.”

Discussions are expected to start in August, and he estimated that a conference report would be finalized by Oct. 1.

This story first appeared on FCW, a sibling site to Defense Systems. 

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