Members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees began a series of meetings Wednesday to iron out differences on the proposed defense budget of about $700 billion for fiscal 2019.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, and House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, both said they expected the conference between the two chambers on the National Defense Authorization Act to be less contentious than in previous years.
Inhofe, who has been subbing for the ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the major point of contention had been removed when Congress dispensed with the rule requiring increases in defense spending to be matched by comparable increases in domestic spending.
"We have broken parity for the first time in eight years and now have to take advantage of it," Inhofe said at a brief news conference with Thornberry and others before entering the closed conference meeting.
However, differences remain in the Senate and House versions of the NDAA on troop levels, how many F-35s to buy, possible restrictions on the sale of F-35s to Turkey, and other issues.
Thornberry said he expected agreement to be reached quickly "so the troops can see the benefits."
Conference participants noted that the NDAA will be named for McCain, who is battling brain cancer at home in Arizona.
"While he's not here today, he's had a lot of influence" on the Senate version of the NDAA and will continue to have input in the conference through his staff, Inhofe said.
The chairmanship of the NDAA conference alternates each year between the House and Senate, and this year the gavel will be wielded by the Senate.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.