House moves forward on defense bill negotiations

House moves forward on defense bill negotiations
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The House officially moved Thursday to reconcile its version of the annual defense policy bill with the Senate’s, approving by unanimous consent a motion to go to conference.

The procedural move comes after the House passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in July and the Senate followed suit with its version in September.

Despite not formally going to conference yet, the so-called “Big Four” — House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), that committee's ranking member Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithCongress, cut the continuing resolutions so Defense can do its job Week ahead: Lawmakers look to break deadlock on defense funding Pentagon eyeing West Coast missile defense sites: report MORE (D-Wash.), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.) and Senate committee ranking member Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Raymond ReedSenate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Army leader on waiver report: 'There's been no change in standards' 15 Dems urge FEC to adopt new rules for online political ads MORE (D-R.I.) — have met to discuss differences in the bills.

Thornberry has told reporters negotiators hope to resolve all major differences by the end of October, save the topline dollar amount.

The House NDAA would authorize $621.5 billion in the base defense budget and $75 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

Meanwhile, the Senate version would authorize $640 billion for the base defense budget and $60 billion for OCO.

Both bills are above budget caps, and Congress has yet to reach a deal to raise them. As a policy bill, the NDAA can proceed regardless, but any money in the bill not appropriated can’t be used.

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Another major issue negotiators will have to flesh out is the so-called Space Corps. The House bill would create the new military branch dedicated to space, while the Senate bill would explicitly prohibit its creation.

On Thursday, after approving the motion to go to conference, the House rejected 184-237 a Democratic motion to instruct conferees to oppose provisions on sales of surplus firearms to the Civilian Marksmanship Program.

The motion would have been nonbinding, but allow Democrats to message on guns.

“It’s important to note this [sale] would make our streets more violent at a time when gun violence is all too common,” said Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), sponsor of the motion.

Republicans argued the program is safe.

“I know no evidence that as the government has over the years disposed of these weapons there is any evidence that any of them have been improperly used,” Thornberry said. “They must be disposed [of] fully consistent with the law, and that includes background checks and the rest, and the proceeds support safety programs.”