When Democrats officially take control of the House in January 2019 following the Nov. 6 midterm elections, the House Armed Services Committee is likely to perform more fiscal scrutiny under likely chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash). However, committee members will still push for their respective priorities, setting up potential battles for key programs.

In an emailed statement Nov. 7, Smith, currently the committee’s ranking member, laid out his national security priorities for the 116th Congress, “no matter who is in charge.” They include: oversight of President Trump, to include his “politicization of the military;” aggressive oversight of the Pentagon’s budget and weapon programs and use of audits; an inclusive military; a “responsible approach to the nuclear weapons enterprise;” military readiness; and climate change efforts related to national security.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. Photo from Facebook profile.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. Photo from Facebook profile.

Smith “has made very clear some of his problems with the way that the current administration and Congress have been running things,” said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow and analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment.

Along with the above statements, the likely new chairman may question the beefed-up force structures being proposed by the services, Clark said.

But it could prove to be a productive discussion, as the Navy and the Air Force may be also rethinking their proposed plus-ups, for 355 ships and 386 squadrons, respectively, Clark noted.

“They’re coming to the realization that numbers alone are not going to solve the problem of great power competition for them,” he said. “They need to work on the capabilities and the strategy … and kind of start opening up different ideas in terms of what the force structure looks like.”

A Democrat-led HASC may be “more willing to entertain those ideas,” Clark said.

Committee leaders will still vie for their respective areas of responsibility to be properly funded, he noted. For example, should Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) step up from HASC Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee ranking member to chairman, he is likely to push for a sustained effort to build up the Navy in a way that will run up against “what the broader HASC is willing to do,” Clark said.

“There will be discussion about reconciling their competing demands in an environment where the overall committee is not willing to spend a lot more on defense than they already are,” he said. That will be the case for each subcommittee leader, he noted.

New HASC members are likely to play a role in the committee’s direction come January, he added. The midterm elections have swept in a new wave of veterans who will potentially be placed upon the committee.

Committee selections are likely to be made in early January, but any younger veterans who join HASC may be less hawkish overall and more thoughtful about defense spending, Clark said.

“You look at some of the more recent veterans like [Rep. Mike] Gallagher (R-Wis.),” he noted. Gallagher, a Marine Corps veteran who deployed twice to Afghanistan, was elected to Congress in 2016. “They’re very thoughtful and they’re advocates for smart decisions about investments, but they’re not … just blindly asking for resources for defense without having thought through the strategy of how they’re going to get used.”