The House and Senate began negotiations Wednesday to reconcile differences between their fiscal year 2019 defense authorization bills, with lawmakers expecting to finish the process by July 27.
The Senate voted 91-8 Tuesday evening to move to conference and start the process of deliberating its $716 billion version of the annual defense spending bill with the House, and settle differences including the number of new ships for the Navy and Air Force’s JSTARS replacement program.
“The John S. McCain defense authorization bill conference is now underway. We set some records in committee of getting it through, and with some 300 amendments. We went into a situation where we had to do some catching up in the area of artillery and other things. All of them are addressed in this bill,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters before conference began.
Inhofe led the Senate’s effort to bring together its version of the NDAA due to the health-related absence of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the armed services committee.
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Reps. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the top defense leadership in the House, joined Inhofe before the conference began and discussed a quick effort to reconcile the two versions of the bill.
“I think all of four us would be in agreement on that,” Inhofe said, when asked if he expected the conference to finish deliberations on the bill by July 27.
Members from the House and Senate will have to settle differences on whether to require the Air Force to follow through on a plan to replace its aging E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) ground-surveillance plane with a new aircraft. The House’s version would require the Air Force to stick with replacing JSTARS, while the Senate’s bill does not (Defense Daily, June 19).
Lawmakers must also debate differences in number of ships included in the bill for the Navy. The House’s version matches a previous White House request for three Littoral Combat Ships, while the Senate’s only includes provisions for one more ship (Defense Daily, June 6).
“I look forward to working with Sen. Inhofe, Sen. Reed and Ranking Member Smith to finish, in fairly short order, this year’s national defense authorization bill,” Thornberry told reporters.