Senior U.S. House members vow to pass major defense bill despite pandemic


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The long reach of the coronavirus outbreak will not keep U.S. lawmakers from passing an annual bill that determines how the Pentagon spends its billions, as Congress has done for six decades.

Representatives Adam Smith, Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, and Mac Thornberry, the panel’s top Republican, announced on Tuesday that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will pass in 2020, as it has annually since 1961.

“This year, Congress will pass the 60th National Defense Authorization Act,” Smith and Thornberry said in a joint statement.

However, they said the coronavirus crisis will affect how the sprawling bill – this year’s NDAA affected more than $730 billion in spending – is written and voted on by the House.

The NDAA sets policy for the U.S. Department of Defense on everything from soldier’s pay rates to how many fighter jets it buys to which bases are closed.

It is one of the few major pieces of legislation to make it through Congress every year, a point of great pride for the House and Senate Armed Services panels.

Smith and Thornberry said they were discussing the process for passing the bill with House leaders from both parties, but remained committed to “regular order,” or moving it through the committee and then to the House floor.

Because the NDAA passes every year, members of Congress typically use it as a vehicle for a wide range of policy matters. This year’s NDAA is expected to address the novel coronavirus crisis.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Jonathan Oatis