- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday unveiled plans for a stripped-down, “skinny” version of the annual defense policy bill as lawmakers remain deadlocked on President Trump’s border wall and other divisive issues.

Sen. James Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, announced on the Senate floor that he and GOP colleagues drafted the bill “because we want to be sure we have it ready in case we can’t reach agreement.”

“If we wait, it will be too late to get it done by year-end,” he added.

The annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is a wide-ranging blueprint for military spending and policy prescriptions for the coming year, but the Republican-run Senate and Democratic-led House have been unable to reach a compromise measure.

Mr. Inhofe’s announcement comes as Democratic lawmakers vowed to block the bill’s passage if it includes funding for President Trump’s controversial border wall — the key sticking point that has largely stalled negotiations thus far.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argued Tuesday that any attempt by Democrats to filibuster a separate defense appropriations bill this week will expose what he called the hypocrisy behind their ongoing efforts to impeach Mr. Trump.

The Kentucky Republican said his chamber will take up the military funding bill, including $250 million in military assistance for Ukraine, this week.

He said the vote for the Department of Defense money will be a “litmus test” for Democrats to see if they can work on other issues while on their drive to impeach Mr. Trump, allegedly for withholding Ukrainian military aid in a search for damaging information of potential 2020 Democratic rival Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, meanwhile, called it “laughable” to suggest Democrats are holding up money to Ukraine. The New York Democrat said the blame falls on the Republican leadership, which he said was seeking to take funds from health programs and military families to pay for the president’s border wall.

“Democrats, of course, are not going to proceed to a defense bill that steals from our troops to pay for a border wall the American people don’t want,” Mr. Schumer said.

Mr. Inhofe’s pared-down stopgap NDAA will only include “noncontroversial essentials to fulfill the Congress’s duty to provide for the common defense.”

But included in the proposal are funds to conduct “oversight of military construction and acquisition programs” which is widely believed to fund the border wall, although that was not specifically cited.

The so-called ‘skinny bill,’ which has come together after 11 weeks of negotiations between the House and Senate, authorizes pay hikes for troops and civilians employed by the Defense Department, as well as providing child care services for military families.

It would continue “key operational authorities” that U.S. forces are using to combat terrorist organizations and allocate funds for “sustaining readiness,” according to a committee aide, and “is intended to be brought up only in the event both sides can’t reconcile their differences in a timely fashion.”

“This is not just inside-the-Beltway gridlock. The world is watching,” Mr. Inhofe said in his plea to rally support for the bill. “Our allies and our enemies are watching. They want to know if America is serious about its role in the world and its national defense.”

• Staff writer Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.

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