A procedural vote in the Senate to begin consideration of the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was delayed Wednesday morning following disagreements over whether to include a $250 billion China competition package with the defense policy bill.

The move received pushback from Republicans such as Sen. Jim Inhofe (Okla.), the ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, who believed the move to include the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act

(USICA) should receive a standalone vote rather than be packaged in with a series of bipartisan amendments.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)

“This morning, we’re continuing to work with our Republican colleagues to strengthen the substitute [amendment] with as many amendments from senators as possible. We’re making really good progress and so we’ll give the Armed Services Committee more time this morning to review the text and come to a final agreement. But the Senate needs to move forward on this bill and quickly,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during floor remarks following the move to delay the vote.

Schumer filed a motion on Monday to begin moving forward on the Senate’s version of the NDAA, after facing pushback for the delay in advancing the bill and beginning conference negotiations with the House (Defense Daily, Nov. 15). 

In a letter sent out Sunday to lawmakers, Schumer said he had a “number of conversations with senators on both sides of the aisle and there seems to be fairly broad support” for considering USICA along with the NDAA.

The Senate previously passed USICA in June, which looks to bolster technology competitiveness with China and includes $81 billion for the National Science Foundation to work on areas such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and robotics over the next few years as well as more than $50 billion to improve domestic semiconductor production (Defense Daily, June 9). 

The path for a China competition bill in the House, however, remains uncertain with companion legislation yet to advance and a pair of separate bills having been introduced out of two different committees.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has also voiced his opposition to including USICA with the NDAA, saying the bill “includes $52 billion in corporate welfare, with no strings attached, for a handful of extremely profitable microchip companies” as well as “a $10 billion handout to Jeff Bezos for space exploration.”

“Combining these two pieces of legislation would push the price tag of the defense bill to over $1 trillion – with very little scrutiny. Meanwhile, the Senate has spent month after month discussing the Build Back Better Act and whether we can afford to protect the children, the elderly, the sick, the poor and the future of our planet. As a nation, we need to get our priorities right. I will vote ‘No’ on the National Defense Authorization Act,” Sanders said in a statement. 

The House has already passed its $768 billion FY ‘22 NDAA in late September with a bipartisan 316 to 113 vote, but the two chambers must still meet in conference to iron out differences between the two versions of the bill (Defense Daily, Sept. 24).