Defense policy bill negotiators to meet Wednesday

By Tony Bertuca  
July 10, 2018 at 11:30 AM

House and Senate conferees will meet Wednesday to discuss the fiscal year 2019 defense authorization bill, according to an announcement from the House Armed Services Committee.

"Known as the 'pass the gavel' meeting, the event is the first meeting of [defense authorization bill] conferees, who work together to resolve differences between the defense authorization bills passed separately by the House and the Senate," the committee said.

The House finalized its list of conferees earlier this month and the Senate is expected to do so soon.

The conference committee will be chaired by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Inhofe is sitting in for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is being treated for brain cancer.

Other conference leaders include House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX), as well as Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the top Democrats on their respective committees.

Inhofe and Thornberry have said they would like to complete the final bill by the end of the month and send it to President Trump for his signature.

Though both bills passed with overwhelming support and adhere to funding levels set by a bipartsan spending agreement, there are several areas where lawmakers will need to compromise, with military end-strength being one of the most high-profile.

The House's defense bill authorizes end-strength increases sought by the military services in their FY-19 budget request, but the Senate version restricts the increases, though it allows for growth beyond FY-18 levels.

The Senate's version of the bill also requires the Pentagon to conduct a massive "roles and missions" review that could ensnare a host of top-tier acquisition programs. The House bill has no such provision.

Meanwhile, both the Senate and House versions of the defense authorization bills would ban Chinese companies ZTE and Huawei, but the Trump administration favors the House's version if some flexibility can be included.