Political Report: 5/8/2018

 In Weekly Wire

Main Story: FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) Mark-Up on Wednesday

The House Armed Services Committee will take up and pass H.R. 5515, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019, on Wednesday, May 9. This is the first legislative step in funding the Department of Defense for FY 2019. Early reports indicate that the legislation will, as expected, fund the Department of Defense at the level set in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. The details of the legislation are where things get interesting as programmatic shifts and departmental reforms will be fought out over the course of the all-day (and frequently most of the night) markup.

Some quick highlights of what is in the initial version of the bill (referred to as “the Chairman’s mark” is below. This is drawn from the summary material made available by HASC.

  • The legislation authorizes $639 in base discretionary budget authority to the Department of Defense with an additional $69 billion in OCO funding for a total of $708 billion in discretionary spending (approximately $9 billion in additional mandatory spending is outside the committee’s authority).
  • Contains an amended version of Chairman Mac Thornberry’s proposed Pentagon reforms, which would require the Department of Defense to cut spending on a variety of support programs by 25% by 2021
  • Raises military pay by 2.6%, the largest increase in almost a decade
  • Requires the Air Force to continue the JSTARS Recapitalization program
  • Fully funds (but does not add to) the FY 2019 request for F-35s
  • Orders two additional Littoral Combat Ships and two additional Virginia-class submarines
  • Increases funding on air and missile defense by over $300 million, including $140 million for directed energy and hypersonics

While the details may shift slightly during the committee mark-up, this represents the best outline of the intentions of the committee’s leadership and a clear marker for their position in this year’s debate. In terms of mechanics, the NDAA will be marked up in a marathon session that begins Wednesday morning and will run until to the early hours of Thursday. HASC, by tradition, completes the entire mark-up in a single, public session. Staffers and reporters frequently wager over the likely end-time, but it’s almost always a late night. The legislation typically passes with strong, bipartisan majorities and this year will likely be no exception.

In related news, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has announced that it will conduct its mark-up of the NDAA on May 23. Unlike HASC, the SASC mark-up is closed to the public, leaving it to one’s imagination to consider the type of discussions that go on there.

The FY 2019 appropriations process also gets under way this week, as the House Appropriations Committee Defense Subcommittee (HAC-D) has its ‘Member Day’ on Wednesday. This hearing provides members not on HAC-D the opportunity to testify before the committee in support of their priorities.

House Activity

The House has several controversial bills on the schedule for the week, including the repeal of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau guidance on auto lending, legislation regarding how the FTC handles proposed mergers, a bill updating federal policy on nuclear waste, and legislation requiring the Department of Justice to make public more information on grant programs.

Senate Activity

The Senate will continue to focus on confirming judges, with six nominations expected to be voted out this week. This will leave little floor time for legislation.

Congressional Defense Activity

  • SASC
    • 5/8 “CLOSED: Niger Investigation and Report”, Full Committee Hearing, SVC-217 Capitol Visitor Center, 10am
    • 5/10 “Nominations – Porter – Stewart – Anderson – Slavonic – Verdon”, Full Committee Hearing, SH-216 Hart, 930am
  • HASC
    • 5/9 “Markup of H.R. 5515 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019”, Full Committee Markup, 2118 Rayburn, 10am
  • HAC-D
    • 5/9 “FY 2019 Defense Member Day”, H-140 The Capitol, 1030am
  • SAC-D
    •  5/9 “Subcommittee Hearing: Hearing to Review the FY2019 Budget Request for the U.S. Dept. of Defense”, 192 Dirksen, 10am

Government Activity Round-up

There are two new and interesting GAO reports on aerospace and defense. The first is an assessment of NASA’s major projects. This report looks at the performance of 17 of NASA’s most significant projects. Overall the assessment is bleak. After several years of improvements, 2018 saw NASA’s average launch delay and average costs both increase year over year. The average launch delay was at the highest level reported in GAO’s ten years of assessing these programs. Full details on the problems here. On a more positive note, GAO looked at the VH-92A program and found it to be on steady ground, though still facing potential development issues that may delay production timelines. Full report here.

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