- The Washington Times - Monday, December 9, 2019

Following a bipartisan breakthrough, lawmakers are on track to vote on the massive 2020 defense policy bill as early as Wednesday after months of contentious negotiations, giving President Trump a partial win in moving his prized military Space Force closer to reality.

Since nailing down language last week for the bill, which sets budget levels for the Pentagon and weighs in on a host of military and security policy issues, the four bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees were expected to sign the document Monday evening and release the legislation for congressional review ahead of a vote.

Republicans can now claim Mr. Trump made major steps to rebuilding the U.S. military under his watch, while Democrats are pushing the line that passing this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) undercuts GOP arguments that an impeachment-obsessed House can’t do other legislative business.

“I am pleased that the last several days have brought some initial indications that sanity and progress may be breaking through,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Monday. “We’re still a long way from the finish line, but this week begins on a cautiously optimistic note.”

Senate Armed Services Committee James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, has rejected the notion that the impeachment inquiry has held up the progress on the NDAA and bluntly insisted that the two matters are unrelated.



The Department of Defense is currently operating on a second continuing spending resolution that provides a temporary budget through Dec. 20. The NDAA, which Congress has passed annually for 58 straight years, sets the budget limits for the department for various projects.

The administration’s hopes to use Pentagon programs to help fund more of President Trump’s border wall with Mexico have been a main sticking point in the talks. Negotiators are said to have “punted” the issue to the defense appropriation bill, potentially allowing Mr. Trump to get more construction funds though the wall is not an authorized project.

Another key holdup has been the Space Force, one of Mr. Trump’s security priorities since he took office.

Lawmakers say a deal had been struck between Democrats and White House negotiators that would green-light the establishment of a new military space agency in exchange for approving 12 weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees.

The version pushed by the Republican-dominated Senate would create a space command as a branch under the Air Force, evolving over time into an independent Space Force that Mr. Trump has championed. The version in the House, where Democrats have the majority, established a Space Corps that more closely mirrors the administration’s original proposal.

“When we get told, ‘Go!’ we’re ready, it’s going to happen fast,” Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Roger Towberman told a Pentagon briefing Monday.

Chief Master Sgt. Towberman, who serves as the senior enlisted leader for U.S. Space Command, explained that his team is “excited about it and I think we’ve got the people that we need in the places that we need to be able to move with speed, but still move smartly and pay attention to blind spots.”

According to a Congressional Budget Office report released earlier this year, a Space Force within the Air Force initially could operate with just 4,100 to 6,000 personnel and cost $820 million to $1.3 billion annually.

Mr. McConnell expressed optimism that the finalized NDAA will soon make it across the finish line.

While the compromise legislation “is not either side’s ideal bill, it is one that should be able to pass both chambers, under the circumstances,” the Republican leader said.

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