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McKeon's Defense Authorization Plan Doesn't Solve Thorny Issues

Jun. 3, 2013 - 03:45AM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
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WASHINGTON — Don’t expect clear resolutions to several politically thorny issues when you dive into the version of a Pentagon policy bill unveiled on Monday by US House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon.

Senior committee aides say the so-called “chairman’s mark” of the House’s 2014 national defense authorization bill will partially address issues such as a proposed East Coast missile shield, but final policy prescriptions for next year likely are months away.

“We write the best bill that we can at this point in the year,” a senior HASC aide told reporters Monday.

“Some of our members have expressed an interest in dealing with [the East Coast shield] in conference,” the senior aide said, referring to the House-Senate panel that will convene this summer or fall to produce a compromise version of the Pentagon-authorization bill.

Still, HASC aides indicated McKeon’s nearly $553 billion mark, which the panel will spend Wednesday and likely part of Thursday amending and ultimately passing, will contain some language about the Republican-hatched plan for a missile shield in the northeastern United States.

If constructed, the system could boost US missile interceptor manufactures and their many suppliers. It also would bring new jobs to the areas where such missiles are built, as well as the areas in which parts of the shield would be erected.

The HASC bill will not offer a plan to move the Pentagon’s base budget under caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA).

“The chairman [McKeon] has a responsibility to budget to the House budget resolution,” the senior HASC aide said.

Passed earlier this year, the House Republican’s budget plan would give the Pentagon $560.2 billion in fiscal 2014. The HASC bill authorizes DoD to spend $552.6 billion in baseline dollars and another $85.8 billion for overseas operations, including Afghanistan. The White House is seeking $526.6 billion for the Pentagon in 2014.

The Obama administration’s Pentagon request is about $52 billion over the BCA-set spending cap.

The House and Senate Armed Services committees merely approve certain DoD funding levels, including the so-called topline. The chambers’ Appropriations committees actually allocate funds.

Senior HASC aides acknowledged that without some kind of legislation later this year that deals with at least the 2014 portion of sequestration, any defense bill that opts against proposing about $50 billion in cuts is “living in a fantasy world.”

On Afghanistan, the HASC bill will not propose US troop levels for 2014 or beyond. Instead, aides described provisions mostly aimed at ensuring Washington and Kabul ink a long-term security pact before most American and NATO forces leave in late 2014.

Notably, the GOP-crafted bill will feature no provisions urging or mandating the Obama administration to provide arms directly to Syria’s rebel forces. It will include a “sense of the Congress resolution” about the years-long Syrian civil war and America’s interests. It also will require the administration to seek an emergency spending bill for any US military action it may eventually order in Syria, aides said.

On specific weapon programs, the HASC subcommittee funding levels and provisions are expected to largely be folded into McKeon’s version of the bill.

Though sources expected plenty of partisan fireworks over the East Coast shield proposal and other issues, the chairman’s mark contains myriad provisions already agreed upon by Republican and Democratic members.

HASC Ranking Member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., said in a Monday statement that the chairman’s mark fully supports the Pentagon’s plans for special operations forces, which have been a key tool in the post-9/11 fight against al-Qaida.

“As we have seen time and time again, our military has the ability to track down violent extremists who wish to do our country harm, regardless of where they reside,” Smith said. “A large part of that capability is due to the U.S. Special Operations Command, which is a vital part of our military. This legislation continues to build on previous efforts to support their important work.”

What’s more, the legislation “also strengthens our ability to confront cyber threats, and provides important authorities to protect vital information,” Smith said. “Additionally, the mark includes a bipartisan provision that codifies congressional oversight of drone strikes and capture missions. The bill also continues to lay the foundation for enabling competition in military space launch.”

In addition to at least keeping alive the hopes of the GOP and the US defense business sector for an East Coast interceptor and radar system, the HASC’s bill also is good news for Israel’s defense sector. That’s because it would increase funding for a missile shield used by Israel and made by that nation’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems.

“The bill also supports strong cooperation with our allies and partners to safeguard international and regional security, including an increase of over $200 million for missile defense cooperation with Israel,” Smith said.

While those issues will receive bipartisan support, others will not.

“Given the size of our debt and deficit and the significant challenges created by sequestration, I am concerned about unnecessary and wasteful spending incorporated into the bill,” Smith said. “For example, the Strategic Forces [subcommittee] portion of the mark contains nearly a half-billion dollars in wasteful spending the Department of Defense did not ask for and does not need.”

The full House panel will begin marking up the bill at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Aides joked on Monday about how far into the early morning hours of Thursday the committee’s mark up will stretch.

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