A breakthrough on fiscal year 2020 defense authorizations and appropriations is unlikely this week as House members are out of town and armed services committee staffers work to hash out differences in House and Senate bills behind the scenes, lawmakers said Nov. 5.
Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told reporters that he expected the “Big Four” authorizers – meaning the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees – will likely meet next week to catch up on where negotiations stand. He confirmed that HASC Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) had provided a paper offer to him last week, but that he had not yet had an opportunity to review it.
Smith has spent time with the Trump administration working through negotiations for border wall funding, a major sticking point in both the FY ’20 NDAA negotiations as well as defense appropriations, Inhofe said. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the SASC ranking member, also noted that Smith has been visiting the White House. The House Armed Services Committee did not return a request for comment by Defense Daily’s deadline. Smith is leading a congressional delegation to Iraq this week.
Smith has “let us know he’s talking to them, … that’s what he’s indicated to us,” Reed told reporters Tuesday. However, the HASC chairman is negotiating “a whole list” of sticking points, rather than just the border wall funding, he added. “If it was just one issue, we would almost be there.”
Reed echoed Inhofe’s indication that a Big Four meeting would be imminent. In the meantime, “we’re hoping that the staff can continue to narrow the differences,” he said.
Inhofe said the prospect of passing a so-called “skinny NDAA” for FY ’20 as opposed to a full bill would be better known in December. He re-emphasized that that would be a last resort to pass the bare minimum of authorizations for the U.S. military. “When that’s the last thing that’s left, when that’s the only way to feed our kids, it’ll be the skinny bill,” he said.
Meanwhile, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters Tuesday that he plans to work with his House Democratic counterpart, House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), to try to speed up the appropriations process for outstanding FY ’20 spending bills, including one for defense funding.
“Later today, I’m going to try and get in touch with Chairman Lowey and see if we can get together and ratchet this up a little bit,” he said.
Most immediately, the two lead appropriators will need to agree upon a deadline for a new continuing resolution as Congress has only eight legislative days left before the current CR expires Nov. 21. Absent a new CR deal, the government would shut down Nov. 22.
Shelby has previously indicated that a CR could extend into February or March, but said Tuesday that he would like to stick to a Dec. 31 deadline that was reportedly agreed to by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
But the border wall issue will continue to be a thorn in legislators’ sides until an agreement is ultimately made, with Shelby calling it “the big impediment” to completing the outstanding budget bills. The Trump administration has requested $8.6 billion in new border wall funding, and for Congress to backfill $3.6 billion worth of canceled military construction projects that has already been taken for the wall. Meanwhile, Democrats continue to say they will refuse to provide any new border wall funding.
Appropriators have been unable to agree with the White House on subcommittee allocations, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said to reporters Tuesday.
“The difficult thing is that it’s almost as though the White House either can’t focus or doesn’t want to focus,” he said.