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U.S. Congress panel leader reports slow progress negotiating 2020 Pentagon budget

By Mike Stone

By Mike Stone

WASHINGTON, Nov 13 (Reuters) - U.S. legislators are making slow progress negotiating the bill that will set spending policy for the Department of Defense in 2020, the head of the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee said on Wednesday.

Democratic Representative Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters the sticking points are the "really big controversial issues that got everyone's attention."

These include using military construction funds for building a wall between the United States and Mexico, creation of a Space Force, a proposal to limit President Donald Trump's ability to launch a war with Iran and a ban on transgender troops, he said.

The Democratic-majority House and the Republican-controlled Senate have each passed their own versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets spending policy. The massive bill is one of the few major pieces of legislation to get through Congress ever year - it has passed every year for nearly six decades - a record that could end this year.

Negotiations to reach a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the bill have been under way since September https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-defense-spending/border-wall-iran-space-force-among-hurdles-for-700-billion-u-s-defense-bill-idUSKBN1W42XL, but have progressed slowly, Smith said, citing several canceled meetings with Republicans. The house's version of the massive bill authorized spending at $733 billion.

"The Republicans are using impeachment as an excuse not to do anything. It's diabolical," Smith said. The first public hearing on Trump's impeachment occurred on Wednesday.

The White House wants more than $8 billion dollars for border wall construction. Lawmakers from both political parties have been critical of the decision to use military funds for the wall.

Most years, the bill has been passed by mid-December, but Smith wouldn't predict when this year's might reach a vote. "It's done when it's done," he said. (Reporting by Mike Stone; Editing by David Gregorio)