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BY XIMENA BUSTILLO, PETER H. KING, ELEANOR MUELLER, and CONNOR O’BRIEN
The House is likely to approve Dec. 8 a compromise fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.
The bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate Armed Services panels clinched a final deal on the annual defense policy bill Dec. 2 and unveiled the conference agreement Dec. 3 for speedy congressional approval.
The $741 billion bill, H.R. 6395 (116), would spur the renaming of Army bases that honor Confederates and place guardrails on President Donald Trump's plans to pull troops from Germany and Afghanistan, but it faces an uncertain fate amid a White House veto threat.
Trump has twice promised to veto the bill. The first came over the summer due to the base renaming provision, and the second came on Dec. 1 over a repeal of social media legal protections that he wanted added to the bill.
Lawmakers didn't include a repeal of the online shield law, known as Section 230, in the final bill. It's unclear whether Republicans will buck Trump and override a veto; both the House and Senate passed their original bills with veto-proof majorities.
Within the budget topline, the bill would authorize $635.5 billion for the base Pentagon budget and $26.6 billion for nuclear programs under the Energy Department. Another $69 billion would go toward the war-related Overseas Contingency Operations account.
The conference agreement would authorize billions for procuring military hardware, including 93 F-35 fighters built by Lockheed Martin, 14 more than the Pentagon requested, and $23.4 billion for the Navy to build nine warships, an increase of $3.5 billion from the service's budget request.
The bill would clear the way for the procurement of a new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, two Virginia-class attack subs, two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, a new Constellation-class frigate, an expeditionary fast transport ship and two towing and salvage ships.
The Trump administration requested just one Virginia sub in its initial defense budget. The request agitated lawmakers who have pushed for the Navy to keep buying two boats per year to boost the sub fleet. A second sub topped the Navy's list of priority programs that weren't included in its fiscal 2021 budget. The White House recently reversed course and supported a second attack sub.
WHAT’S IN THE BILL?*
*Here, our team breaks down what is in major sections of H.R. 6395 (116). Some segments have been removed.
WHAT’S HAPPENED SO FAR?
Last year’s bill: Trump signed the fiscal 2020 NDAA into law on Dec. 20, 2019. That bill, S. 1790 (116), the product of three months of talks, expanded military and federal worker benefits and created a new Space Force, among many other things.
This year in the House: The House Armed Services Committee kicked off it's fiscal 2021 NDAA process June 22 when the Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee approved its section of H.R. 6395 by voice vote without amendments. The full panel advanced the bill 56-0 July 1, and the House passed it 295-125 July 21.
In the Senate: The Senate Armed Services Committee, for its part, kicked off the Senate's series of closed markups a little bit earlier than the House, with the Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee approving a draft version of the fiscal 2021 bill, S. 4049 (116), June 8. The Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee on June 9 approved its portion by voice vote in the only subcommittee markup that was open. The full panel approved the bill 25-2 June 10, and the Senate passed it 86-14 July 23.
Getting to conference: With their individual bills passed, the chambers then began the process of reconciling the two versions, first with unofficial negotiations. On Nov. 16, the Senate passed by voice vote H.R. 6395 after substituting in the text of S. 4049. The procedural move was a needed step for the House and Senate to form a conference committee to resolve the differences between the two passed measures.
On Nov. 18, the House adopted by unanimous consent a motion to request a conference with the Senate, with the Senate agreeing to the motion Dec. 2. Later that day, the leaders of the Armed Services panels announced they had reached agreement, and the conference report was released Dec. 3.
White House view: Trump has been relatively vocal throughout the process, threatening over the summer to veto any defense legislation that would remove the names of Confederate leaders from 10 Army bases, even though provisions that would rename bases were included in both the House and Senate bills with bipartisan support. The final defense bill does include a provision that would spur the Pentagon to remove the names over a three-year period.
Trump on Dec. 1 threatened to veto the bill because it does not include his long-sought repeal of legal immunity for online companies, known as Section 230. The president’s Twitter broadside put Republicans in a bind as they look to maintain Trump’s support heading into the Georgia runoffs next month that will determine control of the Senate in 2021. If GOP lawmakers back Trump, they risk tanking the popular military policy bill that's become law each year for nearly six decades; if they buck him by ignoring his complaints or overriding a veto, they risk stoking Trump’s ire.
The House is set to vote on the defense bill Dec. 8, and the Senate will likely follow soon after.
While Republicans have been unwilling to provoke Trump — most haven’t even acknowledged that former Vice President Joe Biden won the election — Democratic and GOP leaders in both chambers have largely sidestepped his veto threat and are ready to pass a defense bill without caving to his demand to repeal Section 230.
“There’s no way we would have a defense authorization bill with that language in it,” Senate Armed Services Chair Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) told POLITICO. “There’s no question about it. And so obviously, I would have to do what I could to override a veto.”
Many Republicans and Democrats in both chambers support overriding a presidential veto of the NDAA in the waning weeks of Trump’s presidency, with House Democratic leaders saying they will cut a holiday recess short to overturn a veto of the annual defense policy bill. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that it was his “expectation” that the House would come back in session in order to override a presidential veto.
The top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, retiring Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, suggested GOP support for the compromise defense bill could grow with several red flags for Republican lawmakers left out of the compromise NDAA, including a massive public lands package that was rolled into the House bill.
A large enough show of support, he said, might avert a veto showdown.
WHAT ARE SOME STORIES ON THE BILL?
Anthony Adragna, Stephanie Beasley, Andrew Desiderio, Marianne LeVine, Martin Matishak, Sam Mintz, Tanya Snyder and Zachary Warmbrodt contributed to this report.