Inhofe to Introduce “Skinny NDAA” as Conference Negotiations Stall

Inhofe to Introduce “Skinny NDAA” as Conference Negotiations Stall

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) said today that he will introduce a “skinny” version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the hopes that Congress will pass some sort of defense policy bill this year even if it is a limited version.  The House and Senate are in the midst of conference negotiations over their disparate versions of the NDAA. Inouye’s announcement signals that things are not going well and his counterpart, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), made clear that border wall funding is the sticking point.

The annual NDAA sets policy and recommends funding for DOD. Despite all the up and downs and political rancor over the decades, it is the one authorization bill Congress has enacted every year for the past 58 years.  Many aspects are relevant to space, but this year is of special interest because it is the mechanism for creating a U.S. Space Force as a sixth military service.  Or a U.S. Space Corps depending on which version prevails. The House calls it Space Corps, while the Senate and the Trump Administration want to name it Space Force.

Senate Armed Service Committee Chairman Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma).

Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) chairman Inhofe said he intends to introduce a “skinny” version next week because Congress is running out of time.

“To keep all options on the table, next week I intend to introduce a ‘skinny’ defense bill to ensure that Congress is able to extend necessary authorities, take care of our troops and their families, authorize military construction projects, and conduct oversight over military acquisition programs. A skinny 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 path to a final defense bill is, as it always has been, bipartisan. The defense authorization bill has historically enjoyed broad bipartisan support – that is not an accident. Both parties have had to compromise to get a bill worthy of our troops’ sacrifice. I hope we get to a place where we can find common ground to give our troops and military the comprehensive, full-year defense authorization bill they deserve.” — SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe

He expressed hope that agreement can be reached on the complete bill, stressing that it requires bipartisan compromise.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Washington)

Over on the other side of the Hill, House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chairman Adam Smith (D-WA), instead urged conferees to push forward on the complete bill and expressed confidence compromise can be reached.

According to Smith, the problem is funding for President Trump’s border wall and his direction to DOD to divert money into it from accounts authorized and appropriated by Congress for other purposes.

 .“… there is one major sticking point: How to address the President’s use of Department of Defense funds for a border wall. However, this sticking point is no different than those in years past. Inevitably we have policy disagreements as we draft our bill each year, but for the last fifty-eight consecutive years the Congress has successfully negotiated and reconciled these differences for the better of our nation.

“Some have suggested that we will be forced to abandon our negotiations this year and instead pass a ‘skinny bill.’ Any bill that does not restrict wall funding would be challenging to bring to the House floor. It is equivalent to failure – not just for the men and women in uniform who are counting on us to pass the NDAA, but also to the national defense of our country.

“Authorizing our country’s national defense enterprise is difficult work and as one of Congress’ most serious responsibilities, it should not be taken lightly. Rather than give up, we will continue to push forward and work with our colleagues across the aisle and in both chambers, as well as the White House. I am confident we can reconcile our differences and put the country first.” — HASC Chairman Adam Smith

Whether Space Force/Space Corps would be part of a skinny bill remains to be seen.  The two chambers seem inclined to create something as a sixth service under the Air Force, but the details — including the name — are different.

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