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: Trump declares border emergency | .6B in military construction funds to be used for wall | Trump believes Obama would have started war with North Korea | Pentagon delivers aid for Venezuelan migrants Trump defends using DOD funds on border wall: 'Some of the generals think that this is more important' Overnight Defense: Trump to sign funding deal, declare national emergency | Shanahan says allies will be consulted on Afghanistan | Dem demands Khashoggi documents 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 TrumpTrump nominates Jeffrey Rosen to replace Rosenstein at DOJ McCabe says ‘it’s possible’ Trump is a Russian asset McCabe: Trump ‘undermining the role of law enforcement’ 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 McCainMellman: Where are good faith and integrity? GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech MORE (R-Ariz.), has been home battling brain cancer this year.