DoD on the Hill

House committee leaders selected for 114th Congress

Friday, November 21st, 2014

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House Republicans and Democrats have selected Committee chairmen and Ranking Members for the 114th Congress, which will convene in January 2015. Boehner and Pelosi announced the committee leadership selections this week. The Committees of most interest to defense include:

Appropriations: Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY) remains as chair of the House Appropriations Committee (HAC) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) stays on as the Ranking Democrat. Rogers has been pushing for an Omnibus Appropriations bill to finalize action on FY2015 Appropriations in the lame-duck session.

Armed Services: Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) replaces Rep. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), who will retire at the end of this session, as chair of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC). Rep. Adam Smith (R-WA) remains as Ranking Minority member. Thornberry is currently the HASC vice-chairman and has served on the House Intelligence Committee.

Committee on Oversight and Government Reform: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) replaces Rep. Darrel Issa (R-CA) who was an unrelenting investigator of what he considered government wrongdoing. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) remains as Ranking Democrat on the Committee. Chaffetz has been highly critical of recent problems at the U.S. Secret Service and is expected to take a hard look at federal workforce issues.

Homeland Security: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) stay on as chair and Ranking Democrat.

Veterans Affairs: Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) remains as chairman and Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) becomes the new Ranking Democrat on the committee. Brown replaces Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) who is retiring.

Foreign Affairs: Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Rep. Elliot Engel (D-NY) will remain as chair and Ranking of the House Committee Foreign Affairs

Budget Committee: Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) becomes the new chair of the House Budget Committee replacing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) who will become chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) stays on as Ranking Democrat.

With the Republican takeover of the Senate next year many current committee Ranking Republicans will become committee chairs. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is expected to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is expected to head the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). Formal announcements for Senate Committee leadership positions have not yet been made.

FY2015 appropriations, Defense Authorization, and other legislation await action in “lame duck” congressional session

Friday, November 14th, 2014

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Congress has returned this week to complete legislative action in the shadow of last week’s election.  When the 114th Congress convenes in January, Republicans will control both houses. Republicans will gain control of the Senate with an increase of least 8 seats.  Republicans will increase their House majority by at least 12 seats, with five district elections yet to be decided.

But, for the remainder of the 113th Congress, Republicans control the House and Democrats control the Senate. So, with about four weeks until the current Continuing Resolution (CR) expires and less than six weeks until the end of the year, the question is: What will the “lame duck” congress accomplish among a compelling list of unfinished business?

FY2015 appropriations bills:  Most agree that the most pressing priority is completing action on FY2015 appropriations to keep the government running.  The House has passed seven appropriations bills (including DoD and Military Construction/VA) and approved another four through the full House Appropriations Committee. The full Senate has not considered a single appropriations bill, but the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) has approved eight bills (including DoD and Military Construction/VA). Congress will not complete all FY2015 appropriations bills before the CR runs out and leaders of both parties have pledged to avoid a government shutdown. So, Congress could either pass one Omnibus appropriations bill including all 12 bills or a few “mini-bus” bills (for example, DoD, MilCon/VA, and Homeland Security) and wrap the remaining bills in one final FY2015.appropriations bill. Time constraints make one Omnibus bill the most likely result.

FY2015 DoD Appropriations:  The House passed the FY2015 DoD appropriations bill in June and the full Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) approved its version in July. The House bill provides $491 billion, $200 million above the request, for the base DoD budget (excluding Military Construction, which the House passed in the VA/MilCon bill). The House bill also includes $79.4 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), the same amount the president requested as a placeholder. The SAC bill provides $490 billion for DoD base budget appropriations, $1 billion below the request, and $58.3 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO). While the White House has expressed displeasure with the House’s denial of the administration’s cost savings and reform proposals, it did not threaten a presidential veto of the bill.

FY2015 Defense Authorization: The House passed the FY2015 Defense Authorization bill in May and the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has approved its version of the bill. But no action has been taken in the full Senate. There are a number of significant issues that have to be resolved before final agreement, particularly, the size of the military pay raise (House authorizes a 1, 8 percent raise, while the SASC approves the president’s 1 percent request), refueling the USS George Washington, and sanctions against Iran. In addition, both bills authorize some military special pays, multiyear buys, and military construction contracts which would expire unless Congress passes and the president signs a FY2015 Defense Authorization bill.

U.S. military operations against ISIL: The president is expected to send Congress a resolution to authorize the use of military force (AUMF) against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Congressional action could come in the form of an amendment to the FY2015 Defense Authorization bill. However, because this will prove to be a heated debate, Congress could begin to debate a new AUMF now, but not vote until January. The president and defense Secretary Chuck Hagel are also pressing Congress to approve the recently-submitted budget amendment to provide funding and the authority to train and equip rebels fighting ISIL. Congress will likely consider this request when finalizing the FY2015 DoD Appropriations bill.

Other legislation: Over 50 so-called tax extenders will expire at the end of the year. They include research and development tax credits (highly popular with business), state and local sales tax deductions, tax credits for energy efficient homes, and bonus depreciation tax credits.  Earlier, the House passed bills permanently extending some credits (including the R&D tax credit), while the Senate Finance Committee approved extending almost all tax provisions for two years. Although there is strong sentiment among some members to kill many of the provisions, given the time crunch and the popularity of the provisions Congress will probably extend most of them.

The president has said he will take executive action on immigration before the end of the year. Congressional opponents argue that the president must involve Congress. Some want to include a provision in an omnibus appropriations bill that would prohibit the president from spending funds to implement such executive action. The president has hinted he might veto such a bill, which could revive the possibility of a government shutdown. House and Senate Republican leaders are strongly opposed to the president’s impending executive action, but dismiss the idea of forcing a government shutdown over this issue.

President requests $3.4 billion for DoD operations against ISIL

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

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A FY2015 budget amendment submitted to the Congress yesterday would provide the Department of Defense (DoD) $3.4 billion to conduct operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

This request comes after the president announced that he is increasing the number of U.S. forces advising and training Iraqi and Kurdish troops by 1,500 to about 3,000.

Operations against ISIL are currently being funded from existing OCO funding, according to DoD. However, DoD has cautioned that additional funding would be required as the pace of operations increased. Secretary of Defense has repeatedly warned that operations against ISIL are long-term.

The $3.4 billion requested for Operation INHERENT RESOLVE will fund: the operations and maintenance (O&M) costs of air, ground and naval forces engaged in the operation; sustain and support forces deployed to “provide training, advice, and assistance to partner security forces engaged in the fight against ISIL;” and replenish and replace munitions expended during airstrikes against ISIL forces. According to DoD justification documents, $2.0 billion will be for In-Theater Support, $0.3 billion for equipment reset, and $1.2 billion for classified programs.

Over two-thirds of the $3.4 billion will be for O&M appropriations ($2.3 billion). Military Personnel costs account for $141 million, Procurement funding will be $827 million, and RDT&E programs will require $145 million.

Air Force requirements are $1.581 billion (46 percent of total funding). The Army receives $957 million (28 percent) for its operations, the Navy gets $260 million (8 percent), and Defense-wide activities are allocated $632 million (18 percent).

In addition to the $3.4 billion, the president requested $1.6 billion to set up the Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF) ”to develop and support Iraqi national security forces, including Kurdish forces, as they confront ISIL in Iraq.”

These amounts (totaling $5 billion) are to be funded in DoD Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) accounts and are in addition to the $58.6 billion DoD Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) request the president sent requested in June. The total DoD OCO request for FY2015 is now $63.6 billion.

A DoD spokesperson said Congress will have to act on the president’s funding request before the additional 1,500 troops can be deployed. Congress will begin a lame duck session this week with hopes of completing action on FY2015 appropriations bills, including DoD OCO funding, before adjourning.

Hagel and Army leaders call for sequestration fix in 2016

Friday, October 31st, 2014

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel blamed many of the readiness problems the Army and other military services are experiencing on the deep cuts forced by sequestration

Speaking at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition earlier this month, Hagel warned that failure to fix sequestration risks a return to an Army that is undertrained, under-equipped, outnumbered, and unprepared.” Because of sequestration, last year the Army had to cancel so many training rotations that we had only two active-duty brigade combat teams who were fully ready and available to execute a major combat mission,” he charged.

Hagel acknowledged that some budget relief has been enacted, but stressed that sequestration is still law. Unless there is an agreement to fix sequestration, Hagel said, “it will return in 2016—stunting the Army’s readiness just as we’ve begun to recover, and requiring even more dramatic reductions in force structure.”

Hagel also pressed for congressional approval of DoD’s proposed program reductions, trade-offs, and compensation reforms to mitigate the stress on readiness levels and modernization plans. If Congress does not act, Hagel warned, DoD “could face a $70 billion cut in our budget over the next five years.” As a result, the military services “would have little choice but to make up the differences through cuts to readiness,” he said.

Hagel urged Congress to be “a partner in responsible, long-term planning and budgeting” and to end sequestration, which he called “an irresponsible deferral of responsibility.”

Army Secretary John McHugh, opening the AUSA meeting, voiced similar concerns. He warned that if sequestration is implemented in 2016 “another round of indiscriminate cuts will gut our force so we’re unable to meet the president’s defense strategic guidance.” He called on Congress to support predictable, long-term funding plans. “This is a time for predictability,” he said

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno has echoed Hagel’s and McHugh’s remarks. Odierno called 2016 a “breaking point.” He said if sequestration returned in 2016 it would take the Army budget down $9 billion from the current plan. He emphasized this cut would significantly degrade the force “because I cannot take people out fast enough.”

Odierno called for a “balance” between manpower, modernization and training, which sequestration make difficult to maintain. “This is a lousy way to do business,” he said.

President signs FY2015 Continuing Resolution funding government through Dec 11

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

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The president signed a FY2015 Continuing Resolution (CR)—H.J. Res 124—that will fund the government through December 11, 2014. The House passed the CR (319-108) last Wednesday and the Senate approved it (78-22) on Thursday, 78-22.

After the Senate passed CR, Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC) chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said the goal of the CR “is to lay the groundwork for an omnibus funding bill in December that will include all 12 appropriations bills.” Mikulski said she supported the bill because it avoided a government shutdown, does not harm existing important programs, provides funding for the nation’s security, and will allow Congress time to negotiate an omnibus appropriations bill.

The bill sets the discretionary funding level for the federal government during CR period at an annual rate of $1.012 trillion.

Final action on the CR came after agreement was reached on a proposal to authorize the training and arming of Syrian rebels fighting Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) forces. The bill allows the Department of Defense (DoD) to reprogram funds provided to DoD in the CR to support this action.

The bill also extends expiring Department of Defense (DoD) activities, such as counterdrug activities and support of the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq, and provides State Department funding to counter regional aggression toward Ukraine. Additional Veterans Affairs funding is included to process disability claims and to investigate improper conduct, and the Customs and Border Protection receives funding flexibility to address urgent problems. The bill also includes $88 million requested by the administration to address the Ebola crisis, extends the operating authority of the Export-Import Bank through June 30, 2015 and extends the Internet Tax Freedom Act through Dec 11, 2014.

After passing the CR, the House and Senate adjourned for the November mid-term elections. The Senate may convene in October to conduct some business, but the full Congress will not return until after Veterans Day (Nov. 11). At that time Congress will begin a lame duck session to address unfinished business, including the passage of FY2015 appropriations.

To date the House has only passed seven FY2015 appropriations bills while the Senate has passed none. Congress will have less than one month to reach agreement on the details of all 12 appropriations bills, put them together in an omnibus bill, and get it to the president by December 11th. If Congress does not meet this deadline it will have to pass another CR to avert a government shutdown.

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