Lawmakers begin formal defense policy bill negotiations

By Tony Bertuca / November 18, 2020 at 2:29 PM

House and Senate lawmakers today officially began a series of negotiations to hash out a final fiscal year 2021 defense authorization bill.

The chairmanship of the defense authorization bill conference committee alternates between the two chambers. This year, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) "passed the gavel" to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK).

Though staffers have been negotiating for months, today's meeting is the ceremonial start of the conference committee's effort to pass the bill as it has done for the previous 59 years.

"The 'pass the gavel' meeting continues the bipartisan, bicameral spirit that has long been a trademark of the [National Defense Authorization Act], and allows us to hear from all the conferees as we negotiate the bill,' Inhofe said in a statement.

Smith said in a statement the armed services committees "represent one of the last true bastions of bipartisanship, and our ability to produce legislation each and every year is proof that the legislative process still works to provide our service members with the resources they need to complete the myriad missions we ask of them, all in defense of our country."

Both House and Senate versions of the bill, however, contain measures that would remove the names of Confederate leaders from military bases, measures that have drawn a veto threat from President Trump.

Though Trump has lost his bid for a second term, President-elect Biden will not be inaugurated until Jan. 20. The current Congress expires Jan. 2 and, unless the defense authorization bill is passed before then, it will face "nearly insurmountable obstacles to resurrecting it," according to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee.

Thornberry said this week he is worried the base naming issue could derail the bill and should be punted to Biden.

"I think it's much safer to say that if we don't get [a bill] before the end of December and signed into law before the end of December, then all of those provisions just die and a new Congress would have to start from scratch," Thornberry said yesterday.