Schumer’s delay on defense policy bill prompts bipartisan gripes

Only twice before has the Senate finalized its defense authorization this late in the year

Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe says foreign threats make it imperative that Democrats bring the annual defense policy bill to the Senate floor soon. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Oklahoma Sen. James M. Inhofe says foreign threats make it imperative that Democrats bring the annual defense policy bill to the Senate floor soon. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted November 2, 2021 at 2:10pm, Updated at 4:21pm

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday buttressed complaints from Republican lawmakers that Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer was taking too long to bring the annual defense policy bill to the floor.

“I am very distressed. It’s all sitting right there and for some reason Schumer has decided not to do it and there’s no reason for that," Adam Smith, D-Wash., told reporters.

Smith's gripe came just hours after Senate Republicans held a news conference to decry the New York Democrat's decision to prioritize nominations and other issues thus far this fall.

“We’re in the most dangerous position our country has ever been in. Our top priority is national security, and that’s what this bill is,” said James M. Inhofe, the Oklahoman who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I have no idea why we don’t have floor time now.”

The Senate panel approved the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act in July on a 23-3 vote. It would authorize a mammoth $777.9 billion for U.S. defense programs. The House passed its version of the NDAA on Sept. 23.

No one expects the delay to upend the bill. Congress has enacted a defense authorization bill for 60 straight years.

But what first seemed like simply a Republican effort to paint Democratic priorities as misplaced took on a more serious tone when Smith joined their calls for floor action. “I’ve reached out to Schumer’s office and and have basically been told ‘Leave us alone, we’ll get to it when we get to it,’ and that’s not encouraging,” Smith said. “I do think this is an unfortunate error on the part of Schumer.”

Only twice before, in 2013 and 2014, has the Senate finalized its version of the NDAA this late in the year. 

Foreign threats cited

Competition with Russia and China was top of mind for many of the complaining senators. 

“Look around the world — China is threatening to invade Taiwan, you see Kim Jong Un shooting rockets with nuclear capabilities, you see Russia building its nuclear arsenal and supporting terrorists,” said Texas Republican John Cornyn, who criticized Schumer for confirming “low-level nominations rather than deal with our national security.”

“We better wake up and smell the hypersonic missiles, because that’s a huge problem coming our way from Russia and China,” said Alabama Republican Tommy Tuberville, referencing China's recent missile test.

Should the Senate not pass the NDAA by year's end, there are other options. The legislation could instead go directly to the “big four,” the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, who would hammer out the differences between their bills. 

Schumer’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.