Week ahead: Senate takes its turn on Defense bill

When the final Senate committee bill emerges, it’s likely to have a different look in a number of areas that the bill that passed the House Friday.

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The biggest difference is the overall size of the bill. The House-passed bill is $8 billion above the spending caps set by last year's Budget Control Act and $3.7 billion higher than President Obama’s Pentagon budget request. The Senate is expected to mark to the president’s spending level, which will set up a showdown in conference committee over the size of the defense budget.

The Democratic-led Senate committee is also expected to push back against a number of proposals included in the House bill, including $100 million Republicans added for a new East Coast missile defense site, several provisions dealing with same-sex marriage and the military, and restrictions on the Obama administration implementing the New START treaty with Russia.

The Senate panel may agree with some of the changes the House made, including restoring proposed Pentagon cuts to the Global Hawk 30 drone and the Air National Guard.

Other areas of interest include proposed increases in TRICARE fees that the House rejected, whether the Senate wades back into the detainee debate that divided Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and the White House last year, and whether the Senate takes any positions on Afghanistan or Iran, where the House considered several amendments from both sides of the political spectrum.

Like the House, the Senate’s Defense authorization bill is not expected to tackle in a meaningful way the $500 billion in automatic cuts through sequestration set to hit January 2013. Most lawmakers are resigned to addressing that after the November election in a lame-duck session.

While the action on Capitol Hill will slow down with the House in recess next week, there are still several other notable hearings on the Senate side.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will bring in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey on Wednesday to testify at a hearing on the Law of the Sea Treaty.

The treaty has yet to be ratified, despite a desire by both the State and Defense Departments to do so, and is expected to be taken up by the Senate this summer. The House on Friday approved an amendment to the Defense authorization bill to block government funding to implement the treaty.

The Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee is holding an open hearing Wednesday to look at the Guard and Reserve budget, which could give one of the best indications yet about how far Congress ultimately pushes back against the Pentagon’s Guard cuts, which are unpopular on Capitol Hill and in many statehouses.

Also on Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security Committee is holding the first congressional hearing on the Secret Service Colombian prostitution scandal, where Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan is scheduled to testify.

The hearing is not directed specifically at the military side of the scandal, although Levin has not yet said whether there will be hearings on that subject.