Thornberry Expects NDAA Conference Report After Election

The House and Senate fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act conference report is not likely to come together until after November’s election, once intense political rivalries subside, the House Armed Services Committee’s ranking member said.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) told the Defense News Conference on Sept. 9 that even though the House version was unanimously passed in committee and received a “strong” vote on the floor, its differences will not be worked out for months because of “the times we are living in.” Thornberry pointed to the provision in the House bill and Senate bills that would require the Pentagon to rename bases that bear the names of Confederate leaders, a measure President Donald J. Trump has said he would veto, and one Thornberry acknowledged comes with highly partisan emotions.

“I don’t know how that will come out in conference, but I do think we are in a time where neither party is rewarded for compromise and coming together and getting things done,” Thornberry said. “Both sides have incentives to kind of stake out your positions and go to battle. And so, it’s not just one provision I think that prevents us from getting a conference report, it’s the times that we are living in. On the other hand, we should be able to get a conference report pretty quickly after the election.”

One of the other provisions that differs between each chamber’s bills is the creation of a new funding initiative aimed at the Pacific. The House’s version includes about $3.6 billion for its Indo-Pacific Reassurance Initiative, while the Senate proposes $6 billion for a Pacific Deterrence Initiative. The proposals are different in scope and levels of funding, but Thornberry said the important point now is that both lawmakers and Pentagon leaders see the importance of building up the presence in the region.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper now “supports a version [of the Pacific funding initiative], he was reluctant for a while, so we’ll work out the details,” Thornberry said. “The key thing is that if the Indo-Pacific is our priority theater, we need to put our money where our mouth is.”

As the Pentagon shifts its eyes more to the Indo-Pacific, it has announced measures to draw down some forces in Europe following Trump’s pronouncements that the U.S. military will withdraw troops from Germany. Thornberry said he and other members of the Armed Services Committee have questions about how this was rolled out, because “the way it was announced sounded like a personal kind of retribution.”

The White House announced the moves in July, saying Germany was “delinquent” and not spending enough to keep U.S. forces in the country. There can be a discussion about moving forces out of Germany and repositioning them to other regions, Thornberry said—“Yeah, you can make that case, but it needs to be made on a strategic basis in consultation, not some announcement by some unnamed White House staffer that looks to be a personal sort of issue.”