The House Armed Services Committee will begin its review of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on Wednesday, in a process that is expected to last a dozen hours or more. Committee staffers said they hope to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote soon after the July 4th break. The Senate Armed Services Committee has already passed its version of the NDAA, setting the stage for a compromise deal sometime this summer between the Democratic-led bill from the House and Republican-led one from the Senate.
Members of the bipartisan committee will attempt to resolve differences over spending levels and specific defense policies during the markup session. Democrats have defined an overall spending level of $733 billion for defense in 2020, with $664 billion for the base budget and $69 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations fund. Rep. Thornberry (R-TX), the ranking Armed Services Committee member, said that he was concerned that Democrat’s proposed topline falls short of the $750 in overall spending requested by President Trump – a difference that will have to be hammered out before the bill can proceed to the House floor.
Some highlights of the issues that could receive attention:
- Border wall: The House bill currently blocks defense funds from being used for barriers on the border with Mexico and limits the amount of money that the Pentagon can shift to build new barriers.
- Space Force: Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said Monday that lawmakers have agreed on a plan to create a new Space Force, though their plan differs from those proposed by the White House and by the Senate. “The main difference is less bureaucracy,” Smith said, adding that the House version features fewer generals, a smaller staff and a lower overall budget.
- Nuclear weapons: The House bill blocks the deployment of a controversial new submarine-launched low-yield nuclear warhead. The bill also blocks the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, a proposed replacement for the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system. And the chair of the committee said he wants to start a debate about the overall size and cost of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which he maintains is too large and too expensive.
- Guantanamo Bay: The House bill currently blocks the Pentagon from sending new prisoners to the U.S. military prison in Cuba.
- Surveillance treaty: The bill prevents the Trump administration from withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty, which allows signatories to engage in unarmed aerial surveillance flights over the 34 participating nations. Republicans have charged that Russia is failing to honor the treaty.
As lawmakers battle over billions for defense, they have to keep an eye on a related issue: Congress and the White House still need to make a deal to raise the budget caps set in place by the Budget Control Act in order to pass anything like this level of defense spending. Without a deal, defense spending will be cut to $576 billion in 2020.