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 TrumpTrump nominates ambassador to Turkey Trump heads to Mar-a-Lago after signing bill to avert shutdown CNN, MSNBC to air ad turned down by Fox over Nazi imagery 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 InhofeOn The Money: Trump to sign border deal, declare emergency to build wall | Senate passes funding bill, House to follow | Dems promise challenge to emergency declaration Trump to sign border deal, declare national emergency Foreign Affairs chairman: US military intervention in Venezuela 'not an option' MORE (R-Okla.) has joined the Big Four this year with Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMark Kelly's campaign raises over M in days after launching Senate bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Lawmakers wait for Trump's next move on border deal Mark Kelly launches Senate bid in Arizona 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.