House moves forward on defense policy bill negotiations

House moves forward on defense policy bill negotiations
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The House officially moved Wednesday 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 vote comes after the House passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in May and the Senate followed suit with its version last week.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Details on defense spending bill | NATO chief dismisses talk of renaming HQ for McCain | North Korea warns US over cyber allegations Armed Services chairman laments 'fringe elements in politics' Overnight Defense: Mattis dismisses Woodward's book as 'fiction' | House moves to begin defense bill talks with Senate | Trump warns Syria after attack on rebel areas | Trump, South Korean leader to meet at UN MORE (R-Texas) has said he hopes to finish conference negotiations by the end of July.

One of the big issues that has caused negotiations to drag on in recent years -- the topline dollar amount -- was settled with Congress’ passage of a two-year budget deal earlier this year.

Still, House and Senate negotiators will have to grapple with a provision that was added to the Senate version that’s meant to block President TrumpDonald John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her MORE’s deal to revive Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE.

The provision at issue keeps in place penalties that were levied on ZTE after it admitted violating sanctions on Iran and North Korea. It was added to the Senate’s NDDA after the Commerce Department announced it had agreed to lift the penalties against ZTE in exchange for the company paying a $1 billion fine and embedding a U.S.-selected compliance team into the firm.

The White House on Tuesday said it “strongly opposes” the provision, but did not issue a veto threat against the NDAA. Both the Senate and House versions of the bill passed with veto-proof majorities.

Outside of ZTE, the House and Senate bills also have differences on troop levels and equipment. The House NDAA would increase the military’s end strength by 15,600 troops, while the Senate version would add just 8,600 troops.

The House bill also includes two more F-35s, two more littoral combat ships and one more aircraft carrier than the Senate bill.

Another issue that has bogged down negotiations in the past is a provision in the House bill that would prohibit listing the greater sage-grouse and the lesser prairie chicken as endangered species for 10 years. Proponents of the provision say such protections for the birds would limit the availability of military training grounds, while opponents say the issue has nothing to do with the military and shouldn’t be in a defense bill.

The opponents have won out in past years, with the provision getting stripped out during negotiations. But one prominent voice on keeping it out of the defense bill debate, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainTrump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote GOP, White House start playing midterm blame game Arizona race becomes Senate GOP’s ‘firewall’ MORE (R-Ariz.), has been home battling brain cancer this year.