Leaders of a House-Senate conference committee expressed hope Oct. 25 that they will quickly wrap up negotiations on a final version of the fiscal year 2018 defense authorization bill.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), said that he is confident lawmakers can finish the compromise bill “within the next few days.” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), said he is optimistic that lawmakers will complete the conference report “in a pretty short amount of time given the similarities between the House and Senate bills.”
McCain and Thornberry spoke to reporters before convening a closed-door meeting of the conference committee. They were joined by Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the SASC’s ranking Democrat, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the HASC’s top Democrat.
A key issue for the conference committee is whether to accept a House-passed proposal to set up a space corps within the Air Force Department. The Senate version would block the creation of such an entity.
Proponents assert that a space corps is needed because space management is fragmented and because space does not receive enough attention in the aviation-focused Air Force. Opponents, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, insist that a new bureaucracy would slow their efforts to coordinate space activities.
Asked how the space corps matter would be resolved, McCain joked that as “always, however I want it.”
McCain reiterated the need for Congress to prevent the return of budget cuts required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. Without such action, defense funding will be slashed automatically by tens of billions of dollars. He said the military, which is struggling to fix serious readiness problems, could not afford such deep cuts.
“We are in a critical situation,” he said.
Asked about the recent killing of four U.S. soldiers in Niger, McCain noted that the SASC plans to receive a closed-door briefing Oct. 26 from Robert Karem, assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs, and Air Force Maj. Gen. Albert Elton, the Joint Staff's deputy director for Special Operations and Counterterrorism.