Week Ahead: House dives into defense spending bills

Defense lawmakers on the Senate side have no hearings scheduled for next week and are scheduled to begin marking up their version of the defense budget next month.  

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One major question before the House strategic forces subcommittee will be how to handle calls for a new missile defense shield on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. 

House Republicans spearheaded an effort to fund a new East Coast missile shield during last year's budget debate. But the project’s backers ended up falling short of votes when the House opted to kill the effort. 

But that defeat has not deterred GOP supporters of the program, who are lining up support for putting it in this year’s defense bill. This time around, GOP subcommittee members are planning to request $250 million for the missile shield.

The funding the lawmakers are discussing would be a $150 million increase compared to the House’s 2013 authorization bill.

Members of the House subcommittee on intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities will also hammer out their portion of the Pentagon budget blueprint on Wednesday. 

The legislation coming from the subpanel, which oversees the Pentagon's clandestine military and intelligence operations, could end up increasing lawmakers' oversight over those missions. 

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) has already introduced stand-alone legislation to open up lawmakers' oversight of the military's secretive counterterrorism operations — known as "kill/capture" missions — to members of the congressional defense panels. 

The operations targeted by the bill run the gamut from armed drone strikes against al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups to night raids by U.S. special operations forces. The operations targeted would be similar to the May 2011 Navy SEAL raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that resulted in the killing of Osama bin Laden. 

If approved by Congress, Thornberry's legislation would require notification of the kill/capture missions not only to the House and Senate defense panels, but also the defense subcommittees on the House and Senate Appropriations panels. 

Rounding out Wednesday's slate of defense spending markups will be the House defense subpanels on seapower and military personnel. 

On the seapower side, it remains to be seen if House members will go along with subcommittee chief Rep. Randy Forbes' (R-Va.) plan to significantly expand the Navy's shipbuilding coffers. 

Forbes's goal is to set in motion a massive increase in Navy shipbuilding that would bump spending to levels last seen in the mid-1980s.

The Navy's shipbuilding strategy would have the fleet top out at 300 warships over the next three decades, but that number could drop if anticipated funding levels set by Congress fall off track. 

Forbes wants to shift course and is spearheading what he calls “a new framework” for a sustained increase in shipbuilding. 

"Our goal is much larger," Forbes told The Hill in April, adding he wants to bring the Navy back to its shipbuilding heyday.

On the personnel subcommittee, members are all but guaranteed to pursue measures to address sexual abuse within the military's ranks. 

The issue of persistent sexual abuse in the military has reportedly frustrated the Pentagon's top officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, and drawn the ire of the White House. 

President Obama and Vice President Biden met with Hagel, Dempsey and the Joint Chiefs at the White House to figure out how to deal with the increase in military sexual assaults.

The meeting came a week after he Pentagon’s annual reports showed an estimated 26,000 assaults in 2012, an increase of more than a third.

On Thursday, the House Armed Services subcommittees on tactical air and land forces and military readiness will hold their markup hearings.

Those readiness hearings are sure to be dominated by how Washington plans to restructure its armed forces as the war in Afghanistan winds down and the fiscal bite of sequestration begins to deepen.

Hagel ordered a massive review of the Pentagon's overall military strategy for a post-Afghanistan war world in March, in order to account for the across-the-board budget cuts from the sequester.

Pentagon leaders have combed through nearly one-third of all the programs and policies included in the Obama administration's long-term military strategy approved last year, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said earlier this month. 

The review represents "a clear delineation of choices we may [have to] make" under sequestration, Carter said.

While the review will not be complete by the time the full House Armed Services panel marks up the DOD’s fiscal 2014 budget, its may play a significant role in House members' decision on how to finance America's future military force. 

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