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House Tentatively Aims to Pass NDAA by August

By John M. Donnelly and Katherine Tully-McManus/CQ News

The House Armed Services Committee is tentatively looking to report a defense authorization bill, or NDAA, to the floor by early July so that the House can potentially pass the measure later that month, a knowledgeable House aide said Thursday. 

House leaders have yet to finalize the NDAA schedule. But planning is underway on when and how members might write the fiscal 2021 version of the bill, which every year sets policies and authorizes detailed funding levels for U.S. national security programs. The related appropriations, expected to total $740 billion, are enacted separately.

House Armed Services subcommittees could mark up their portions of the measure (HR 6395) during the week of June 22, with the full committee potentially acting the following week, the aide said, emphasizing the schedule is not yet set.

“We had a meeting about it today and the chairman hasn't determined the best way forward,” said Massachusetts Democrat Seth Moulton, in a brief interview Wednesday night. “It's very important that we do it. We owe it to the troops."

The Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, intends to mark up its companion version of the NDAA during the week of June 8. Unlike the House Armed Services Committee, most of the Senate committee's NDAA markups are not open to the press or the public.

This year’s NDAA markups are going to be unusual, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. In the House, it appears all but certain the Armed Services Committee will not hold the meeting in its traditional hearing room, Rayburn 2118, but will conduct the marathon daylong event elsewhere.

House Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., has been talking to members about the logistics of marking up the sprawling legislation and navigating the demands of the mammoth committee of 57 members.

Members are debating a variety of options for this year’s House Armed Services NDAA markup that include some virtual elements and some in-person aspects.

The full committee markup is all but certain to occur in a larger room than the usual one, so that members can sit at least six feet apart, the aide suggested. Limited staff and press will attend. It is yet to be determined whether any members of the public might attend the markup, which typically is a big draw for lobbyists. 

Three rooms have been identified as candidates for the full committee markup, with the House chamber a less likely fourth option, the aide said. The three rooms are the Ways and Means Committee room, a large banquet room in the basement of the Rayburn office building and the Capitol Visitor Center auditorium. 

House Armed Services subcommittees could potentially use Rayburn 2118 because each of the panels comprise fewer members than the full committee, and the subcommittees might even conduct entirely virtual markups, the aide said.

House rules require two practice sessions in whichever new room or rooms members choose for their NDAA markups. Those sessions could start as soon as next week, the aide said.

The committee has for several years now streamed its NDAA markups and made amendments available digitally. So, except for the new location, those virtual elements will be unchanged.

"I personally don't believe any of this should be that difficult,” Moulton said. “The rest of the world has figured out how to go remote. We're really behind the times here in Congress."

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