National Defense Authorization Bill Stalls at Senate and House Leadership Level

December 6, 2019 Updated: December 6, 2019

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has stalled at the leadership level with House and Senate members unable to reach a compromise to authorize the appropriations that maintain our national defense.

Congress has issued two emergency Continuing Resolutions, (CR), so far in this budget cycle—the second of which will expire on Dec. 20. CR’s are said by lawmakers and experts to waste taxpayer dollars and undermine national security.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reprimanded Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday for not prioritizing the NDAA as well as other key legislation.

“This morning, Speaker Pelosi delivered a speech to advance her rushed & partisan impeachment process. Not one word on the outstanding legislation the American people actually need. Nothing on the USMCA, or the NDAA, or funding for our armed forces,” wrote McConnell on Twitter.

When asked about McConnell’s comment, Frederico Bartels, Heritage Foundation Policy Analyst for Defense Budgeting, said, “Perhaps the Democrats are a little more to blame because their original bill was uncompromising on Democrat priorities.”

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) joined at left by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) right, speaks to reporters following the Republican Conference luncheon, at the Capitol in Washington on June 25, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Bartels told The Epoch Times why he thinks the bill has stalled.

“It’s a slow-moving train that, over the course of about the last 50 years, has allowed leadership to gain more control and strip power from committee chairmen both in written regulations and informal rules about how legislation works. Consequently, decisions can only be finalized by those in leadership positions like the speaker and majority leaders.”

Epoch Times Photo
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., makes a statement at the Capitol in Washington, on Dec. 5, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“If three lawmakers are doing the job of 50, you have limited outcomes. The leadership does not have the bandwidth to handle all the issues, and the chairmen have it as a priority, but not the power to finalize the bill,” he continued.

This authorization bill has historically been a point of bipartisanship cooperation, and even now, lawmakers on either side do not want this 58-year-old streak to change. Leadership has been negotiating the bill since the summer, but the deadline for the next CR to expire is fast approaching.

Senate Armed Services Committee officials introduced a “skinny” National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill on Oct. 29, and lawmakers have grown increasingly uncertain about the possibility of reaching a compromise on a variety of contentious issues in the enormous military bill.

Senate Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in late October that the move is designed to ensure that a host of necessary items—including numerous military specialty pay authorizations—are passed by the end of the year. But the next day, House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said a stripped-down version of the measure wouldn’t solve all of the lawmakers’ problems.

If Congress wants to pass the 2020 defense policy bill before the end of the year, lawmakers have until the Christmas holiday to break a partisan deadlock between the House and Senate; otherwise, a third CR will become a reality.

Congressman Thornberry said of the CR, “Reports that the next stop-gap spending bill will extend until December 20th are disappointing and troubling. Such a late date makes a further stopgap beyond the 20th more likely.

“Every CR is wasteful and damages the ability of our military to carry out their vital missions. There is no excuse for this dysfunction. The compromise signed into law in July determined how much would be spent on defense this year, yet four months later, nothing has happened. Congress needs to put aside other considerations, put the troops ahead of politics, and get it done now.”

Senate Armed Services Committee aide, Marta Hernandez, told The Epoch Times that negotiations are ongoing and are now at the leadership level with Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Many of the outstanding issues to finalize the bill are not defense-related, like addressing contamination from toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) chemicals and family leave.

Bartels believes that outstanding issues that are being thrown around are not necessarily the main or only issues. “If a lawmaker is publicizing a particular sticking point in the bill, it is probably just being used to leverage for their side. Negotiations have to happen in good faith and with trust that the other party won’t go to the press.”

An aide from the House Armed Services Committee who is familiar with the defense appropriations told The Epoch Times, “Inhofe’s proposed ‘skinny bill’ will not gain support from the Democratic caucus in the House. Through the conference process, the House and Senate have worked for months to reach agreement on hundreds of provisions. Passing Inhofe’s bill would waste these months of hard work on more than 1,300 provisions.”

The aide said, “The remaining areas of disagreement include, but are not limited to, the specifics around the space force creation and implementation, a provision granting all federal employees 12 weeks of paid family leave, and the specifics regarding provisions to address PFAS.”

House Armed Services Committee spokesperson Monica Matoush said, “As our conferees continue to work through the differences between the House and Senate versions of the FY20 NDAA, a few sticking points remain. However, these sticking point are no different than those in years past. Inevitably we have policy disagreements as we draft our bill each year, but, for the last fifty-eight consecutive years, the Congress has successfully negotiated and reconciled these differences for the better of our nation.

“A day-to-day slip for a budget deal risks putting our service in a situation where we cannot recover from the effects of a continuing resolution,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in a statement to ABC News. “Each day that passes has the potential to severely impact and plague readiness at the individual and collective training level. … Without an approved budget, we are unable to build 4,400 new homes and will be forced to delay the repair of another 269 homes.”

CR’s are wasteful and cost taxpayers billions, but it is hard to get an exact dollar amount.

Bartels said, “The negative impact of a CR is mid-to-long term. During a CR, only the most crucial military needs are funded, so things like training military personnel and maintaining or acquiring equipment, etc. would not be prioritized. The long term effect of which would be less skilled and ready military.

“And for the Army, a continued delay in funding doesn’t just throw a wrench in the wheel—it knocks the wheel completely off and sets it on fire … If there is a year-long CR, the Army’s breakdown says, there could be a $597 million reduction in active-duty and reserve entitlements—meaning salaries, housing allowances, bonuses, and more. “The impact slows accessions and hampers recruiting and retention incentives,” said army documents.

The House Armed Services Spokesperson asserts that the full NDAA will pass, but with no exact date pinned down.

“Some have suggested that we will be forced to abandon our negotiations this year and instead pass a ‘skinny bill.’ Authorizing our country’s national defense enterprise is difficult work, and as one of Congress’ most serious responsibilities, it should not be taken lightly. Rather than give up, we will continue to push forward and work with our colleagues across the aisle and in both chambers, as well as the White House, to pass a full NDAA.’”