Republicans prepare amendments for defense authorization bill this week

As the House Armed Services Committee prepares to vote on the 2011 defense authorization bill on Wednesday, GOP panel members are seeking to cement their national security credentials.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, said that Republicans will offer several amendments, including one to prevent the transfer of military detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States and to countries where others are known to have “returned to the battlefield.”

As part of the minority’s “Defend America” plan, they will also push for something the administration has resisted: public disclosure by the Pentagon of a restricted annex to an independent review of the deadly November shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. That report was conducted by former Army Secretary Togo West and retired Adm. Vernon Clark in January.

As in previous years, missile defense will emerge as another partisan issue. Republicans are expected to offer an amendment to continue investing in long-range missile defense, including land-based interceptors (initially planned for Poland) and maintaining all missile fields in Alaska and California.

Most major funding authorization decisions were announced this week, including $485 million for a second F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine – which the Pentagon does not want. The Pentagon agreed to another multiyear with the Boeing Co. for 124 Super Hornet fighter jets and electronic attack planes just days before the committee took up the defense authorization bill. The House committee has been a strong supporter of the contract and has pushed for more Boeing fighter jets.

One major policy issue unlikely to get a vote in the committee is repeal of the ban on openly gay service members. Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) opposes repealing the ban. Supporters of repeal are weighing how best to bring the issue up for a vote – most likely as an amendment to the defense authorization bill when the full House considers it. But supporters and the Democratic leadership would have to whip enough votes for passage of repeal.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked Congress to hold off on scrapping the ban until the Pentagon finishes studying the implications of repeal in December.