The chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees were emphatic that a deal on the conference fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) could be reached by early next week in talks with reporters Dec. 4, despite a number of issues remaining up for debate.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services, told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill “I really believe we’re going to have a resolution to this thing Friday or Monday,” adding that lawmakers are up against tough deadlines as the new year looms with only seven legislative days left in calendar year 2019.
He declined to provide details on where negotiations stand, but emphasized that progress is being made, “enough to get this through.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) agreed that conferees are making progress. The Defense Department and many other agencies are currently operating under a continuing resolution scheduled to end Dec. 20.
“I remain cautiously optimistic that we will be able to get something done this week or next,” he told reporters Wednesday. “We’re not quite there yet but I’m confident that we will be able to get there.”
He added that he believed a vote in the House on the NDAA next week is possible. However, the sticking points remain the same ones that have plagued conference talks since the beginning, Smith noted. They include decisions to be made regarding President Trump’s requested funds for a U.S.-Mexico border wall, as well as his desire to stand up a Space Force.
Other issues still on the table include what to do about paid family leave and how to combat the effects of a batch of chemicals known as PFAS that have contaminated water sources around military bases and other communities around the country, causing a number of health problems.
“The wall and Space Force … those issues make it difficult on our side,” Smith said, referring to House Democrats in negotiations. “But I think we’re closing in.”
Republican lawmakers have previously claimed that Democrats are holding up Trump’s key priorities, such as the creation of a sixth military branch dedicated to space, as leverage against major progressive priorities. Smith also declined to provide any specifics on budget negotiations, but said once the NDAA is out, he believes it will be “a good product.”
Calls are occurring back and forth with all major actors on a regular basis to ensure an authorization act is signed before the end of the year, he noted.
“I made about 15 phone calls yesterday to make sure that absolutely everybody who needed to be aware of it [the deadline] is in fact aware of it, and that is occasionally an expanding list,” he said. “All the key people know what’s going on.”