- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2019

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, faced with a deadlock on the massive 2020 defense policy bill, are weighing a stripped-down version of the measure that would punt on some of the most divisive issues, including money for President Trump’s Mexico border wall.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, confirmed Thursday that he is preparing a “skinny” version of the National Defense Authorization Act. The temporary military budget agreement is set to expire next month.

The National Defense Authorization Act is traditionally the vehicle for Congress to weigh in on a host of military and security-related issues while setting the budget guidelines for the year ahead. Mr. Inhofe said in a statement that top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate armed services panels have made “good progress” but “haven’t yet reached a final agreement.”

“A skinny bill is not a substitute for a full bill, but it might be a necessary next step if we don’t reach an agreement soon,” Mr. Inhofe said.

But Rep. Adam Smith, the Washington Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, criticized the idea of a skinny bill and said there was no reason the two chambers couldn’t produce a bill, aside from Mr. Trump’s effort to tap Defense Department funds for the wall.

“Inevitably, we have policy disagreements as we draft our bill each year, but for the last 58 consecutive years the Congress has successfully negotiated and reconciled these differences for the better of our nation …,” Mr. Smith said. “Rather than give up, we will continue to push forward and work with our colleagues across the aisle and in both chambers, as well as the White House.”

According to a list released by the Senate chairman’s office, the “skinny bill” would continue support for the fight against the Islamic State, the F-35 fighter jet program and a pay raise for troops. A committee aide told The Washington Times that the final bill is still being worked out.

Mr. Inhofe’s proposal also includes funding for military construction projects that would likely contribute to President Trump’s border wall, which has been the prime sticking point throughout negotiations.

Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, confirmed to a group of reporters Wednesday that there has been a “big fight” on border wall funding as Democrats consistently push to bar defense funds from being used for its construction.

Partisan splits remain over issues such as funding for the Guantanamo Bay detainment site, the treatment of transgender service members and the president’s war powers, Defense News reported.

Lawmakers missed a deadline at the beginning of the month, which also marked the start of the 2020 federal fiscal year, to complete the National Defense Authorization Act.

The Pentagon has since been operating on a stopgap funding bill that expires Nov. 21, and Mr. Thornberry did not express optimism that lawmakers would come to a broad agreement by then.

He called out fellow lawmakers who are “really good at criticizing the president” to finish the bill as issues while the impeachment inquiry and renewed fighting in Syria have taken the spotlight.

“The end of the year approaches, but we’re also getting tied up in other challenging issues that have to resolve on the appropriations side,” Mr. Thornberry said.

“We have less than a month of funding for our military right now,” he said. “Congress has not done its job in funding the military.”

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