No Space Force in Inhofe’s Skinny NDAA

No Space Force in Inhofe’s Skinny NDAA

As promised, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) introduced his “skinny” version of the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) today.  The intent is to have a scaled-down version of the NDAA that is non-controversial and can pass easily if conference negotiations on the complete bill remain stalled. It is just that.  Skinny, lacking most of the policy and funding recommendations typical of the annual NDAA, including any mention of the Space Force that President Trump is eager to create.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Chairman, Senate Armed Services Committee

The NDAA is one of the few authorization bills that reliably passes Congress every year — in good political times and bad.  Members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, HASC and SASC, proudly point to their unbroken record of reaching compromise for the past 58 years.

Inhofe referred to that today, saying he remains hopeful that the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans will be able to find a way forward despite deep disagreements on issues like Trump’s border wall.

His concern, however, is that agreement will not be reached before the end of 2019.  The skinny bill is a stopgap in case the clock runs out.  He said it extends “essential, noncontroversial authorities for national security programs that would otherwise expire soon.”

At 67 pages, the bill stands in stark contrast to the full bill.  The House version, H.R. 2500, is 1,976 pages long.  The amended version that passed the Senate is 1,928 pages.

Obviously a lot is missing, including authorization to create a sixth military service as part of the Air Force. The House calls it a Space Corps. The Senate uses the Trump Administration’s term, Space Force. What to call it is only one of the differences between the two versions, but expectations are that common ground is achievable.  The Administration is anxious to move forward, however, and passing the skinny bill would slow it down.

It is other issues like the border wall that are holding up action on the full bill. Inhofe and his House counterpart, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) have not given up.  Inhofe sounded conciliatory today, stressing the skinny bill is only just in case action is not completed on the other.

“Given our deadline, I want to preserve all options for fulfilling our Constitutional duty. My Democrat colleagues in the Senate have been great partners throughout this entire process, and I believe we can still reach a final, bipartisan agreement on a comprehensive defense authorization bill, just as we have for the last 58 years.”  — Sen. James Inhofe

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

For his part, last week Smith vowed to press on with the full bill, while conceding the difficulty with the border wall provisions.

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. … 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.” Rep. Adam Smith

Two months remain in the calendar year, so it might seem there is enough time to work things out, but the House will be in recess next week and other recesses are coming up, so the number of legislative days is limited.  If the House proceeds with impeachment, that will absorb congressional attention.  In that light, a skinny bill might be the only way to ensure essential authorizations do not expire.


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