The House and Senate got a relatively early start on negotiations over a conference agreement for the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill, but enactment of the measure is not certain as the Obama administration has issued a veto threat due to its opposition to a variety of policy provisions in the two versions.
The administration’s sticking points include language in the Senate version reorganizing the Pentagon, including a provision which would eliminate the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, and assign its duties to multiple officials, including an undersecretary for management support. DOD objects to other changes to its acquisition policies as well.
The White House criticized the House version over its reliance on $18 billion in overseas contingency operations account (OCO) funds for base budget items — including more weapons and equipment, and higher end strength levels — not requested by the DOD. Using the funds allocated to the OCO account — which is not subject to the statutory budget caps — in an effort to restore shortfalls in military readiness would result in funding for overseas operations to run out at the end of April.
“There’s a code term in there, ‘strongly object,’ which is normally interpreted as a veto threat, and there were more than 18 of those in this year’s statement of administration policy,” said Andrew Hunter, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Committee leaders began formal conference talks in July, with staff working out many of the lower-profile issues since then in an effort to agree on a compromise version when lawmakers return in September. With Congress back in session, the pace of negotiations should pick up.
Lawmakers say they are hopeful they can reach agreement on a final bill before November, but analysts believe another late-year vote is more likely, reported Defense News.
“It’s unlikely to make much progress in September,” said Justin Johnson of the Heritage Foundation.