By JOHN T. BENNETT
WASHINGTON — US House and Senate members hammering out a Pentagon policy bill are “not there yet,” says one of the conference committee’s leaders.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters on Tuesday that Senate and House Armed Services Committee leaders want to finish the compromise version of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Friday. There will likely be no floor amendments, Levin said, largely because there are few remaining days in the legislative calendar.
Asked when he hopes the panel will iron out differences, Levin replied: “I hope soon, but I just don’t know.”
“My hopes aren’t waning” on completing the bill before the 113th Congress adjourns in mid-December, he said. “We’re not there yet. That’s what it amounts to.”
He declined to comment on how many issues remain unresolved, or what those are. But he said “the vast majority” of differences have been ironed out.
House and Senate aides are mum as well, with a handful declining comment Tuesday morning even about how many issues must still be resolved.
One House aide did give an upbeat assessment, saying, “Hopefully we are close.”
The House and Senate conferees are meeting again in a race to keep alive the NDAA’s 53-year approval streak. The bicameral group was forced to begin what’s called “pre-conferencing” a final bill that will be a compromise of a House-passed version and one approved by SASC but not the full Senate.
Procedural bickering between Republicans and Democratic leaders has stalled even the must-pass NDAA the last two years, forcing a holiday season pre-conferenced bill.
Levin told CongressWatch he and others involved in the negotiations cannot give any details about what remains undecided “because it’ll be harder to resolve them if it’s a battle in the public.”
He did disclose that, “as far as I know, it’s at the ‘big four level’,” meaning disputes among the chairmen and ranking members of the two committees.
Pressed on an ETA for the pre-conferenced legislation to hit the House and Senate floors, Levin replied: “Hopefully we get it done so that it can be taken up [the first week of December] if the leadership wants to take it up [then].”
The retiring chairman said the pre-conferencing tactic is “not ideal,” but added committee leaders are trying “to make the best of it because we need a bill.”