Lawmakers Reach Home Stretch for Final NDAA Negotiations

The chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are still hashing out differences between their chambers’ versions of the fiscal 2020 defense policy bill, offering conflicting opinions on when that work may end as their days in session dwindle.

Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute on Dec. 5, HASC Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said lawmakers could reach an agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act by the end of the day. 

“It is very much possible,” he said, indicating that bicameral talks have lasted into the winter because people want to revisit issues that are already settled. “At some point, you’ve just got to say, ‘We’ve done what we can do. We’re done.’ We’re trying to get to that point today.”

Lawmakers have been split on a range of issues from allowing the Trump administration to use defense funding to build a wall along the southern US border, to language related to the Yemeni civil war, transgender troops, and the creation of a Space Force. Smith suggested language to protect transgender service members did not end up in the conference bill, while other pieces are still on the table.

According to Defense News, SASC Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters he spoke with Trump late Dec. 4 and met with Defense Secretary Mark Esper the next morning. Some issues aren’t as resolved as he thought they were, he said.

The negotiators have repeatedly floated optimistic dates for when they could have a final product but continue running down the clock. Smith sees Monday as the last chance to come to an agreement before Congress runs out of time to pass a joint NDAA by the time lawmakers leave for winter recess and 2019 ends.

“I’m hoping to do it before then,” Smith said. “I’m reasonably confident unless someone drops another bomb in the middle of it, which is always possible.”

This article has been updated to reflect the correct dates.