Congress returned to a full plate of work this week, including the must-pass, always voluminous defense policy bill.
To send the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act to President Joe Biden for his signature, the House and Senate must reconcile differences in their versions of the legislation.
The full "conference committee" of designated negotiators taking up this task will hold its first — and likely only — meeting Wednesday, according to published reports.
Wednesday's meeting is only possible because much of the work has already be done behind the scenes by the professional staffs of the House and Senate Armed Services committees.
HASC and SASC leaders aim to finalize and file a compromise version of the fiscal 2024 NDAA as early as this week.
If that schedule holds, the final bill could see a vote as early as next week to ensure it reaches Biden's desk before the end of this year.
Democratic and Republican leaders in both chambers of Congress have made passing the NDAA a top priority for December.
Several provisions important to the National Guard hang in the balance.
NGAUS in September informed congressional defense leaders which provisions in each version of the fiscal 2024 NDAA are Guard priorities.
Retired Brig. Gen. J. Roy Robinson, the NGAUS president, listed the association's positions in a Sept. 18 letter to the chairman and ranking member of the HASC and SASC.
Robinson emphasized six provisions that are in one or both versions of the NDAA.
Two provisions are items on which both chambers agree: one would increase the vice chief of the National Guard Bureau to four stars, and the other would provide the surviving families of fallen Guardsmen and Reservists with the same medical benefits as service members in the active component.
The NGB vice chief is presently a three-star general. Four stars would put the position on the same level as the other vice chiefs in the Pentagon. The current rank puts NGB at a disadvantage in various meetings, like those involving the Joint Requirements Oversight Council.
The other provisions Robinson noted are all in the House version, but absent from the Senate version.
These provisions include zero-cost dental care for drilling Guardsmen and Reservists; a limitation on the termination of fighter squadrons; the establishment of the Space Guard; and parental leave parity.
— By John Goheen