House, Senate hammer out differences on defense bill

Staff-level negotiations are well under way in an attempt by the House and Senate Armed Services committees to resolve the differences between their competing versions of the fiscal 2004 Defense authorization bill by the August recess, according to aides to both panels.

The Senate named its conferees on June 4, but the House is not expected to appoint its negotiators until the week of July 7, a House Armed Services Committee spokesman said Monday.

The spokesman suggested that more progress was needed on several " big issues" such as the Pentagon's proposed revamping of its civil service system before House and Senate lawmakers would meet in a formal session.

Optimistic House committee members want to hold a closed-door conference markup with their Senate counterparts on July 16, with a report submitted to both chambers by July 18. If everything goes according to this timetable, floor action on a final defense bill would occur the week of July 21.

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