The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said he is confident that lawmakers will be able to finish work on the annual defense authorization bill by the end of the year, despite the long list of challenges to overcome between now and then.
“We’ll get a bill done,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., said Tuesday after a brief procedural session on the massive defense budget policy measure. “There’s always some friction, but we will get this bill done. We have to.
“It’s one of the obligations that the House and Senate take very seriously. And we owe it to the troops.”
At Tuesday’s Senate session, lawmakers formally began floor debate on the authorization bill, which outlines $817 billion in Defense Department spending policies and priorities for fiscal 2023. The House passed its draft of the legislation in July.
The two versions contain some significant differences, including differing spending targets for the military. Both are far above the roughly $770 billion defense budget proposed by the White House in the spring.
Senators adopted 75 noncontroversial amendments to their bill draft in Tuesday’s work, including adding authorization legislation for the Coast Guard, State Department and several other agencies.
The Coast Guard bill includes an additional $841 million for a third Coast Guard icebreaker — a measure in line with the White House’s recently unveiled Arctic Strategy, which calls for more of the vessels to compete with Russia and China.
Reed said he was unsure if there will be votes on more amendments when lawmakers return to Washington in November to finish their work on the bill.
One issue he dismissed was the idea of addressing U.S. tensions with Saudi Arabia in the measure.
Despite praising Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., for blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia over oil production cuts, Reed said that he had not seen any senator include a Saudi-related provision as part of the approximately 900 amendments submitted to the authorization bill debate.
“To be frank we had completed our proceedings in June in committee, and then the other amendments that were introduced didn’t focus on it,” Reed said.
Still, he said that the U.S. “should look carefully at everything we’re sending” the Saudis “because their inability to cooperate with the West and their willingness to cooperate with Russia is very disturbing,” while calling for “political pressure on OPEC members to break away and increase production.”
Reed indicated that components of Menendez’s Taiwan Policy Act would also be in the NDAA, as the bill does contain security assistance “consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act.” He also said the bill includes “support for our industrial base to produce the munitions needed to backfill our stocks while also keeping supplies flowing to Ukraine.”
Additionally, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said his amendment to create a sweeping China grand strategy commission is “in play,” noting that it has “a lot of buy-in from a lot of senators.”
Like the House version, the bill includes a 4.6% pay raise for troops in 2023 and a host of specialty pay renewals.
Debate on the measure is expected to resume the second week in November, when lawmakers return from the midterm elections.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.