By Emelie Rutherford
Republicans controlling the House next year are expected to place a greater emphasis on missile defense and countering China’s arms buildup while increasing oversight of the Pentagon and resisting calls to cut military spending.
Tuesday’s mid-term congressional elections gave Republicans majority control of the House and its committees starting in January, and radically restructured the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), which is losing its four most-senior Democrats.
HASC Ranking Member Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.) is expected to assume the chairmanship of the panel. He laid out a "broad vision for national defense policy" yesterday that focuses on "investing in the capabilities and force structure necessary to protect the United States from threats of tomorrow" and winning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
McKeon faces a tricky fiscal situation, with President Barack Obama looking at a 1 percent real increase in the defense budget over the next five years. Defense Secretary Robert Gates launched an efficiency initiative within the Pentagon intended to yield $100 billion in savings over five years, money he wants to use to maintain 2 percent to 3 annual real growth for warfighting capabilities.
McKeon said yesterday that U.S. "citizens have spoken, and they want a defense budget that is sufficient to address the challenges of today and the threats of tomorrow."
"One percent real growth in the base defense budget over the next five years is a net reduction for modernization efforts which are critical to protecting our nation’s homeland," he said.
McKeon said he has three priorities for the 112th Congress that will convene next year: "investing in the capabilities and force structure needed to protect the United States from tomorrow’s threats, while mandating fiscal responsibility, accountability, and transparency from the Department of Defense;" ensuring deployed troops have the "equipment, resources, authorities, training, and time they need;" and "building on" the HASC’s tradition of supporting warfighters and their families.
Pundits said they expect Republicans to continue their calls for stronger missile defenses to protect the U.S. homeland from Iranian missiles, along with increased capabilities–including Navy ships–to counter China’s growing military.
Republicans will have subpoena power next session, though it remains to be seen if the GOP-controlled HASC will use it. Though the committee often tried to force the Pentagon to turn over information to it, it has not typically sent subpoenas to the Defense Department.
McKeon said the HASC will "place a renewed emphasis on oversight" that will be "focused and aggressive."
"Our (oversight) efforts will be relevant and directly tied to the front-line war fighter in Iraq and Afghanistan and the protection of the U.S. homeland," McKeon said.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is poised to become chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and has talked of using that subpoena power.
As ranking member of the committee, Issa was critical of the management of the V-22 tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft, built by Bell Helicopter Textron [TXT]-Boeing [BA]. The panel has also investigated the development of General Dynamics‘ [GD] Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.
Issa, though, did not talk about any Pentagon investigations during a post-election interview on MSNBC‘s "The Daily Rundown" show yesterday.
The House Appropriations Defense subcommittee (HAC-D), meanwhile, will undergo a leadership change with the shift of power to the Republicans. While current Ranking Member C.W. "Bill" Young (R-Fla.) would be the natural pick, current term-limit rules wouldn’t allow him to regain the chairmanship he previously held, according to a GOP aide. Those rules could be changed, or Young could be granted a waiver. The next-senior Republican on the HAC-D now is Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.).
Three current HAC-D members will not return next session. Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) lost to GOP challenger Steve Southerland on Tuesday. Rep. Carolyn Kilpatrick (D-Mich.) lost in the Democratic primary in August. And fellow HAC-D member Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) in August lost the Republican primary race for the seat vacated by Sen. Sam Brownback (R- Kan.), which Rep. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) won on Tuesday.
The top four HASC Democrats lost their reelection battles: Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), Vice Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.), Readiness subcommittee Chairman Solomon Ortiz (D- Texas), and Seapower subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.); Ortiz, though, may seek a recount.
The most senior HASC Democrat to be reelected is Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), though it is not clear if he would become the committee’s ranking member, because he is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) would be next in line, because the more-senior Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) did not seek reelection.
Smith is the main Democrat on the HASC’s Air and Land Forces subcommittee, a position he took earlier this year after former Democratic congressman Neil Abercrombie began his successful campaign for governor of Hawaii.
Smith, a supporter of major homestate employer Boeing, was careful at times when dealing with contentious Pentagon contracting battles impacting the company, including its pending proposal to build the Air Force’s KC-X aerial-refueling tanker. For example, when the HASC marked up the fiscal year 2010 defense authorization bill last May, Smith quietly included an amendment, with no debate, mandating the defense secretary submit an "interim report" to Congress on government subsidies received by companies in the tanker competition that are deemed illegal by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The next Congress will not see the return of several Boeing supporters who were outspoken in their support of the company’s military aircraft programs. Those Boeing backers include Tiahrt and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who Tuesday night was elected governor of Kansas. Boeing backer Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) is retiring, and Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) is replacing him.
Yesterday election results still were being tallied for two major Boeing allies, Washington Democrats SAC-D member Sen. Patty Murray and HASC member Rep. Rick Larsen.
While such lawmakers’ replacements undoubtedly would advocate for the Chicago-based company, they likely wouldn’t be in the same positions of power to have as great an impact on deliberations.
Boeing donated more to congressional candidates this election cycle than any other defense firm did, with $2.08 million in donations to a bipartisan mix of incumbents, according to the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). The firm donated 59 percent to Democrats and 41 percent to Republicans. Murray was Boeing’s top recipient, with $69,000, followed by Tiahrt, with $39,000.
Still, Skelton remained the top receiver of donations from the industry over all, with $365,000.
Other defense-minded lawmakers to lose their reelection bids Tuesday include
HASC members Reps. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) and Glenn Nye (D-Va.). In the Senate, Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), a former Navy admiral, lost his bid for the seat he took from Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) in the primary election. Sestak lost on Tuesday to Republican Pat Toomey.