Senate’s NDAA markup is two weeks away. How will the pandemic change things?

Joe Gould

WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee will mark up its annual defense policy bill the week of June 8, mostly in closed sessions, its leaders announced Tuesday.

The Military Personnel Subcommittee set an open markup June 9 for its section of the National Defense Authorization Act, and the other subcommittee markups will be closed, per the panel’s custom. The full committee markup is set for June 10, said SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the committee to practice social distancing at hearings and hold some closed teleconferences with Pentagon leaders instead of in-person meetings, but Inhofe said Tuesday the NDAA would proceed, as it has for 59 years.

“The pandemic just makes it all the more important that we care for our service members and their families, maintain peak readiness and continue modernizing and preparing for the future — just as the National Defense Strategy urges,” Inhofe said in a statement. “We’ve faced some unique challenges getting to markup this year, but, together with Senator Reed and the entire Armed Services Committee, in our traditional, bipartisan fashion, I am eager to move this year’s NDAA closer to enactment for the 60th straight year.”

The House Armed Services Committee announced in March that its markup, initially set for late April, would be postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. The committee has yet to announce a new date, though Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said it is his goal to complete the bill by October without truncating the committee’s process, which is traditionally open.

“We’re going to get it done this year like we get it done every year, and obviously the challenges are significant as we figure out how we’re going to do that,” Smith told reporters on an April 29 call. “But there’s a bipartisan desire to to our job, and we’re committed to doing that.”

The HASC was expected in the coming weeks to introduce and mark up a draft of the defense authorization bill that is in line with the $740 billion top line set by the 2019 budget deal, but a public debate has surfaced.

Twenty-nine House Democrats are calling for spending cuts to address the COVID-19 pandemic, while the HASC’s influential top Republican, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, has said cutting defense would be shortsighted.

“My bottom line is: This pandemic is changing a lot in this world, and I do not want the United States to come out of it in a weaker military position than we went into it,” Thornberry said in a May 7 call with reporters.

SASC announced it would consider the NDAA on the following dates:

Monday, June 8:

2:30 p.m. – Subcommittee on Readiness – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)

4 p.m. – Subcommittee on Strategic Forces – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)

Tuesday, June 9:

9:30 a.m. – Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)

11 a.m. – Subcommittee on Airland – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)

2 p.m. – Subcommittee on Personnel – Dirksen SD-G50 (OPEN – see below for press RSVP info)

3:30 p.m. – Subcommittee on Seapower – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)

5:30 p.m. – Subcommittee on Cybersecurity – Russell SR-232A (CLOSED)

Wednesday, June 10:

9:30 a.m. – Full Committee - Dirksen SD-106 (CLOSED)

Thursday, June 11:

If needed: 9:30 a.m. – Full Committee - Dirksen SD-106 (CLOSED)