WASHINGTON — Congressional negotiators finalizing the annual defense policy bill have agreed to add about $9 billion to the Pentagon's budget request to fund the wars and fill readiness shortfalls, according to a report published Wednesday.
Such a deal would mean armed services committee leaders from both chambers had vaulted a key hurdle for wrapping up the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act and bringing it to a vote in both chambers. Politico, citing a source directly involved in the negotiations, posted its report on Wednesday evening.
The negotiations, while underway, are highly sensitive and customarily secretive, and Defense News could not independently confirm the report on Wednesday evening. While one House Armed Services Committee aide, when pressed, would not deny the report, three other sources said the news was premature.
"The Politico story is inaccurate," said Chip Unruh, a spokesman for the Senate Armed Services Committee's top Democrat. "There has been progress, but no final agreement. They are continuing to work on a bipartisan basis."
The spokesman for House Armed Services Committee Democrats said: "It is premature to say there is any agreement at this time. We have more to settle and every issue is open until we can close it all."
A source familiar with conference proceedings said, "Reports of a final deal are premature. The conferees are still working to finalize the conference report, which they hope to accomplish as soon as possible."
The deal, as reported by Politico, reportedly included extra money to halt the drawdown of soldiers, Marines and airmen and fully fund the military pay raise. But it would not include the additional F-35s, F/A-18s and extra littoral combat ship that were included in the House version of the annual defense policy bill.
The House and Senate versions were $18 billion apart after the House added that amount to the $610 billion Pentagon request, but the Senate did not. Armed services committee leaders reportedly agreed to split the difference at $9 billion above the Pentagon's request and the final bill will include additional money at roughly that same level.
The bill would stop the Pentagon's proposed drawdown of 15,000 soldiers, 2,000 Marines and about 4,000 airmen for fiscal 2017, with additional support dollars included, Politico reported.
"The decision to stop the proposed troop drawdown was also tied to the fact that President-elect Donald Trump has called for higher end strength numbers," the source told Politico.
The agreement incorporates the additional $5.8 billion war funding request that was submitted by the White House last week, Politico reported. That money will help fund the war in Afghanistan and the US-led air campaign against the Islamic State through the end of the fiscal year.
The deal was reportedly agreed upon by the "Big Four," House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and ranking Democrats Rep. Adam Smith, of Washington state, and Sen. Jack Reed, of Rhode Island.
The Democratic sign-off signals that the deal is likely to attract bipartisan support, and a presidential veto is unlikely unless there are controversial policy provisions remaining in the final version of the legislation, the report said.
McCain on Wednesday declined to discuss the negotiations in detail with reporters but said he hoped a final bill would be complete before the Thanksgiving recess. A day earlier, he said neither the policy questions were resolved nor the funding.
The House NDAA contained controversial policy provisions that if kept threaten to derail the bill, and Thornberry told Defense News on Monday that lawmakers are reassessing such provisions in light of the incoming administration.