Political Report: 2/26/2019
Main Story: Congress Back at Work, Holding Hearings on Defense
Congress returned from the President’s Day recess to a full schedule of defense-related hearings. Topics include readiness of the Navy’s surface fleet, cybersecurity and information assurance at the Pentagon, and a closed briefing on the B-21 Raider. Two SASC hearings—one with testimony from STRATCOM Commander Gen. Hyten, and another with prominent former officials from the nuclear weapons enterprise—promise to examine US nuclear policy, missile defense, and space operations. HASC will hold a hearing on the US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the implications for arms control.
The divergent emphasis of the Senate and House hearings reflect a new dynamic in this Congress. House Democrats, led by HASC chairman Adam Smith, intend to use their majority to scale back US nuclear forces, while Senate Republicans will continue to support nuclear modernization. Rep. Smith has been particularly critical of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which he calls unaffordable and unnecessary. The position is a leftward departure from the policy of President Obama, who supported arms control efforts while simultaneously approving the modernization of US nuclear forces.
The hearings come on the heels of an announcement on Monday that the National Nuclear Security Administration completed the first production unit of the W76-2 nuclear warhead at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas. The warhead is a lower-yield version of the existing W76-1 deployed on the Trident-II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile. The Trump Administration argues the W76-2 will be able to penetrate Russian and Chinese defenses in ways that U.S. non-strategic nuclear forces based in Europe cannot. According the 2018 NPR, the warhead is a short-term measure before ultimately pursuing a nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.
The week will be dominated by the Oversight and Reform Committee’s hearing on Wednesday with Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former attorney. The House will also be voting on over a half-dozen bills under the suspension of rules, including the Preventing Illegal Radio Abuse Through Enforcement (PIRATE) Act, and Supporting Veterans in STEM Careers Act. Resolutions on gun background checks and the President’s national emergency on the border with Mexico may be addressed.
The Senate schedule includes several hearings. On the floor, the Senate will continue consideration of S.311, legislation regarding the care of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion. In addition, it is expected that the Senate will confirm Eric D. Miller to the Ninth Circuit and Andrew Wheeler as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Congressional Defense Activity
- No hearings this week
- 2/28, “CLOSED: Briefing on Intelligence Matters’, SH-219, 2pm
- 2/26 ‘On the Eve of the Summit: Options for U.S. Diplomacy on North Korea’, Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation, 2172 Rayburn, 1015am
- 2/26 ‘A Global Crisis: Refugees, Migrants and Asylum Seekers’, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, 2200 Rayburn, 2pm
- 2/26 ‘Made by Maduro: The Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela and U.S. Policy Responses’, Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade Subcommittee, 2172 Rayburn, 2pm
- 2/27 ‘The Trump Administration’s Foreign Policy: A Mid-Term Assessment’, Full Committee, 2172 Rayburn, 10am
- 2/27 ‘America’s Global Leadership: Why Diplomacy and Development Matter’, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, 2172 Rayburn, 2pm
- 2/25, ‘CLOSED: Briefing on the conflict in Yemen’, SVC-217, 5pm
- 2/27 ‘Assessing the Role of the United States in the World’, Full Committee, SD-419, 1015am
- 2/26 ‘U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Northern Command’, Full Committee Hearing, SH-216 Hart Senate Office Building, 930am
- 2/26, ‘CLOSED: Briefing on the B-21 Raider’, Airland Subcommittee, SVC-217, 3pm
- 2/27 ‘Military Personnel Policies and Military Family Readiness’, Subcommittee on Personnel, SR-222 Russsell Senate Office Building, 230pm
- 2/27, ‘CLOSED: Briefing on DOD Cyber Operations’, Cybersecurity Subcommittee, SVC-217, 230pm
- 2/28 ‘Nuclear Policy and Posture’, Full Committee, SD-G50 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 930am
- 2/26 ‘Naval Surface Forces Readiness: Are Navy Reforms Adequate?’, Readiness and Seapower Subcommittee Joint Hearing, 2118 Rayburn, 10am
- 2/26 ‘Department of Defense Information Technology, Cybersecurity, and Information Assurance’, Intelligence and Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, 2212 Rayburn, 2pm
- 2/26 ‘INF Withdrawal and the Future of Arms Control: Implications for the Security of the United States and its Allies’, Strategic Forces Subcommittee, 2118 Rayburn, 2pm
- 2/27 ‘Transgender Service Policy’, Military Personnel Subcommittee, 2118 Rayburn, 2pm
- No hearings this week
- 2/27 ‘The 2019 National Emergency Declaration to Build a Border Wall & its Effect on Military Construction and Readiness”, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, 2359 Rayburn, 2pm
Government Activity Round-up
On February 13, CBO released a report, “Long-Term Implications of the 2019 Future Years Defense Program.” The report argues that DoD underestimates cost growth in the out years, and that O&M will account for 55 percent of the increase. CBO projects that total costs from 2019 through 2033 would be about $480 billion (or 5 percent) greater than Pentagon projections. GAO released a report on February 21 that paints a bleak picture of Coast Guard shore infrastructure. The report concludes that about 45 percent of the Coast Guard’s shore infrastructure is beyond its service life, and a backlog in the billions of dollars poses safety risks.