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NDAA on hold while Congress grapples with debt limit

House subcommittees had planned to work on the sprawling bill this week

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., shown in March, said the delay “will be until there's a deal in place.”
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., shown in March, said the delay “will be until there's a deal in place.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House is postponing consideration of the fiscal 2024 defense authorization bill while Congress works to resolve an impasse over the debt ceiling, lawmakers said Wednesday.

House Armed Services Chairman Mike D. Rogers, R-Ala., abruptly announced Tuesday evening that the markup of the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, had been postponed indefinitely. The committee’s seven subcommittees had planned to mark up their sections of the bill Thursday and Friday, with the full committee markup planned for May 23.

But that schedule coincided with ongoing leadership negotiations ahead of a June 1 deadline to lift the debt ceiling. Those negotiations remain stalled, with Democrats demanding a clean increase while Republicans want steep spending cuts.

“For now, we’re going to wait and see how that process plays out before starting the NDAA,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., said on Wednesday. “But we’ve already been doing work on what those policies would look like on a National Defense Authorization Act.”

House Republicans argue that the delay won’t affect the overall consideration of the bill, which has been enacted annually for the past 62 years. But the postponement will likely push back Republicans’ plan to bring the bill to the floor in early June.

“We’ve been working diligently at the subcommittee level and full committee level, and just as the majority leader said, we will be prepared to pass a robust NDAA,” said House Republican Conference chair Elise Stefanik of New York. “So when you talk about ‘indefinitely,’ the NDAA is the one bill that every single year, we’ve been able to deliver and pass, certainly since I’ve been in Congress, but for decades.”

Republican defense hawks have insisted that the caucus’s plan to slash discretionary spending over the next decade in exchange for a debt limit increase won’t impact the Pentagon’s budget.

But Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, suggested Wednesday that defense authorizers can’t move forward with their work until congressional leadership determines a topline number.

The delay “will be until there’s a deal in place,” Wittman said. “I think at that particular point, there’ll be that topline number, and I think that’ll inform where we go. And the leadership will then be able to work with the HASC and the [Defense Appropriations Subcommitee] folks and say, hey, here’s where the topline number is. And then that’ll inform what portion of defense discretionary is assigned to HASC.”

The move aligns the House’s defense panels with the Senate Armed Services Committee, which shifted back its own plans to consider the NDAA this month, according to a committee aide. Those markups primarily occur in closed session.

Wittman said waiting for debt limit talks to firm up before proceeding with the markup process allows national security lawmakers to work “from a point of certainty.”

“The worst thing we could do is to put a number out there, mark to it, complicate the negotiations and then not be able to sustain that number,” he said.

On the defense spending side, House appropriators are planning to mark to the president’s budget request, Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., said Wednesday, meaning lawmakers would need to cut back elsewhere to adhere to the fiscal 2022 topline levels.

He added that appropriators and authorizers will “reconcile everything on the back side when it’s appropriate.”

Meanwhile, the delay has frustrated Democrats who were eager to begin consideration of the mammoth defense policy bill. Defense officials have repeatedly told lawmakers that passing their appropriations bills on time is the single most helpful thing Congress can do to keep the military strong as it seeks to help Ukraine fend off Russia and deter China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., ranking member of the Armed Services Seapower subcommittee, blamed Republican leadership for the impasse.

“My impression was that it did not come from the committee,” he said. “It was the leadership. Because, again, I think Chairman Rogers has been really very strong, in a good way, that he wants to move this bill.”

Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

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