While progress has been made on a number of issues related to a conference agreement for the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the creation of a Space Force remains far from agreed-upon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) said Nov. 13.
Speaking with reporters on Capitol Hill, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said NDAA conference negotiations are proceeding “reasonably well,” but that conferees are down to “a few, really contentious issues,” one of which is President Trump’s requested Space Force.
He noted that there is “an odd little coalition” advocating for the creation of a Space Force as the Trump administration has envisioned it: a new sixth branch of the armed forces on equal standing with the current services. When pressed on where the Space Force issue stands in negotiations, he characterized it as a “high-echelon” challenge for conferees to work though.
The House has broadly supported the creation of a “Space Corps” for several years now and approved the new branch in its FY ’20 NDAA bill, while the Senate version authorized a “measured” Space Force with several steps in place to avoid added bureaucracy and cost.
“The Senate was adamantly opposed to it for three years, … The president has persuaded them to look at it differently,” Smith noted. “There is bipartisan concern on the proposal, and bicameral concerns … about the specifics of that proposal.”
He demurred on making a prediction of whether the Space Force authorization will ultimately make it into the final conference bill, saying, “It’s still possible, but by no means guaranteed.”
Smith added that conferees remain stuck on major issues including the White House’s proposed transgender ban, whether to revoke the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) and how to authorize funds to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The chairman has visited the White House to try and develop a solution for the latter issue, where the Trump administration is seeking $8.4 billion to fund the border wall.
He criticized GOP conferee members for slow-rolling negotiation meetings and for playing partisan politics with the defense authorization bill.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor Tuesday to accuse Democrats of being too busy with impeachment proceedings taking place in the House to pass the NDAA. Smith disputed that claim and called the floor speeches “not helpful,” adding that GOP conferees have canceled three out of four planned negotiations meetings to date.
“They are continually canceling meetings and then complaining we aren’t moving fast enough,” he said. That being said, a meeting of the “Big Four” negotiators – meaning the HASC and SASC chairmen and ranking members – is currently scheduled to take place Thursday, he added.
Meanwhile, Smith said he was still optimistic that an agreement on the NDAA will be reached.
“I believe that the Senate and the White House sincerely want to get a bill done,” He said. “I also think they want to keep in their back pocket the partisan argument about impeachment. I don’t think that’s helpful … but I do think they want to get a bill done.”