Senate moves to start negotiations on defense policy bill

Senate moves to start negotiations on defense policy bill
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The Senate officially moved Tuesday to reconcile its version of the $716 billion annual defense policy bill with the House’s, approving 91-8 a motion to go to conference.

In addition to that move, senators approved two motions to instruct conferees, which are nonbinding directions to negotiators. One, approved 97-2, says Senate negotiators should work to keep in the bill reforms to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The other, approved by the same margin, says negotiators should reaffirm the U.S. commitment to NATO.

The votes come a day before conferees are scheduled to meet at a “pass the gavel” session to officially start negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

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The House moved last month to go conference on the NDAA, which was overwhelmingly passed in May by the House and in June by the Senate.

Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees have said they hope 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 top-line dollar amount — was settled with Congress’s 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 TrumpOver 100 lawmakers consistently voted against chemical safeguards: study CNN's Anderson Cooper unloads on Trump Jr. for spreading 'idiotic' conspiracy theories about him Cohn: Jamie Dimon would be 'phenomenal' president 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 last month said it “strongly objects” 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.

Though Wednesday’s meeting will be the first official one for the conference, the so-called Big Four — the chairmen and ranking members of the Armed Services committees — have already had informal discussions. Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTrump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Steady Kavanaugh proves to be a tough target for Democrats MORE (R-Okla.) has joined the Big Four this year with Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainAnother recession could hit US in 2019, says credit union association chief R-E-S-P-E-C-T: One legacy of Franklin and McCain is up to us To cure Congress, elect more former military members MORE (R-Ariz.) at home battling brain cancer.

Asked Tuesday about any sticking points so far, Inhofe said there’s “not as much as usual.”

The ZTE provision, as well as the CFIUS one, has been discussed, but there have been no agreements yet, he added.

“If I had all those answers, we wouldn’t have to have a meeting tomorrow,” he said.