WASHINGTON ― The Senate is “likely” to vote on its long-delayed annual defense policy bill this week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a Sunday letter to lawmakers.
The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, a bipartisan package meant to make the U.S. economy more competitive against China and bolster U.S. supply chains, may be added to the Senate’s 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, Schumer, D-N.Y., also said in the letter.
Schumer will seek a vote to repeal the 2002 Iraq war authorization. Based on a bill from Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Todd Young, R-Ind., the move would represent a step toward Congress reclaiming its constitutional war-making powers from the presidency.
Schumer said he was raising the defense bill Monday amid further delays for the Democrats’ ambitious Build Back Better legislation, a $1.75 trillion social spending and climate bill. The House is first expected to take up the package this week.
The Democratic leader had faced criticism from Republicans and some Democrats, including House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., for not advancing the NDAA. The legislation is a massive budget policy measure that has passed through Congress annually for almost six decades.
Only a small fraction of the hundreds of proposed NDAA amendments will likely see votes, if recent history is a guide. These include amendments to establish an independent Afghanistan commission, boost military support for Ukraine amid intensifying Russian activity, kill the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate and transfer control of the Washington, D.C. National Guard from the president to the mayor.
The House finalized its draft of the measure in September, but a version passed by the Senate Armed Services Committee has been awaiting a full chamber vote since July. Now it will likely face final passage on a calendar crowded with the major Democratic legislation, action to raise the country’s debt limit and a possible continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown.
Schumer said he’s hopeful Congress would reach an agreement on a 2022 federal spending package, but Republicans and Democrats are still at odds, meaning Congress will very likely have to pass a CR before the current stopgap legislation expires Dec. 3.
With three weeks of legislative work left in the 2021 congressional calendar, House and Senate lawmakers will have limited time to negotiate a compromise to finalize a bill before the end of December.
While this process typically begins over the summer, it’s feasible to pass the bill before year’s end, said Arnold Punaro, a former Senate Armed Services Committee staff director who is now chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association’s board.
“SASC knows how to deal with both hundreds of amendments and also tough-vote amendments,” Punaro said. “They are experts at managing what is in most years the largest bill on the floor. This would also let them officially conference in early December and get the bill to the president by Christmas, even with all the chaos on the CR and debt ceiling.”
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.