Congressional leaders push back on NDAA veto threats

Defense committee leaders plan to vote on the annual defense bill without key items on President Trump's wish list.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, Chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, is briefed on the capabilities of the F-35A Lightning II during his visit at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., Oct. 10, 2019.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jensen Stidham)

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is briefed during a 2019 visit to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jensen Stidham)

The House Armed Services Committee announced Dec. 2 that both the Senate and House have reached agreement over the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act.

Lawmakers appear united in deflecting veto threats coming from the White House.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the final bill will not include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – a measure sought by President Donald Trump.

The proposed repeal, "has nothing to do with the military," Inhofe told reporters on Dec. 2. "That's not a part of the bill."

On Dec. 1, Trump said on Twitter that "if the very dangerous [and] unfair Section 230 is not completely terminated as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), I will be forced to unequivocally VETO the Bill when sent to the very beautiful Resolute desk. Take back America NOW. Thank you!"

Rep. Adam Smith, House Armed Services Committee chairman, fired back at the president on Twitter saying that the issue of Section 230 wasn't in either the House or Senate version of the 2021 NDAA. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking member for the House Armed Services Committee, pushed for the bill's bipartisan support in a separate statement.

The president's latest NDAA veto threat also follows an earlier threat over a plan to rename bases U.S. military bases named for Confederate leaders. Trump wants to block the renaming, which has been a sticking point for the congressional defense committees. The requirement to rename the bases in included in the conferenced version of the bill announced today.

Funding deadline

Separately, the Dec. 11 deadline to pass an appropriations package or a new continuing resolution to fund the government is looming. The Navy is worried about potential multi billion-dollar costs of stopgap funding and is seeking a full appropriation for fiscal year 2021.

"Here in the Senate we've got a number of important bills that we're trying to finish up prior to the end of this Congress: both the COVID relief bill, the NDAA, and a final appropriations bill. Importantly, that's going to have military appropriations but it's not for sure that we're going to get there," Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Chairman Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said at a Dec. 2 hearing.

When asked about the potential impact of another continuing resolution, Adm. Michael Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, said the effects are "cumulative over time" starting with $1 billion that hit operations and maintenance accounts for a 72-day CR. At six months, "we have decisions to make with respect to moving money around" such as with next steps for procuring aircraft carriers and a potential hit to military and personnel accounts.

Gilday said, "you begin to see the effects more acutely in those accounts as well where you cannot hire the people you want to hire in numbers to get to where you want to be at the end of the fiscal year."

A 12-month CR, he said, would cost the Navy $18 billion and have "significant impact" on modernization and investments in the future as some maintenance dollars go towards networking infrastructure. Gilday wrote in his prepared testimony that funding for shore readiness also covers "cyber infrastructure protection for our ashore and deployed units."

"Protecting our networked fleet also requires building cyber security and resilience into our platforms. To meet this end, PB-21 requests over $1 billion to protect our forces from intrusions and will ensure that we can fight through and recover from cyber-attacks," Gilday wrote.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said his biggest worry was modernization. "We have gotten by so far on this CR on readiness, without any negative impacts. It will begin to impact going into the next few months," Berger said. "My major concern is modernization" which needs new start initiatives that get paused under continuing resolutions.

"If we don't have the appropriations bill on time, you're going to delay the modernization of the Marine Corps and to the detriment of our readiness is going to be, for us, sort of a double whammy. Not a good picture."

Those sentiments were supported in a newly released Government Accountability report highlighting the Navy and Marine Corps' ongoing readiness and management challenges, including sufficient training for personnel.

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