Week ahead: Armed Services committees tackle Syria

Both the House and Senate Intelligence panels voted last month to block funding for the military aid until concerns about the weapons falling into the hands of al Qaeda-linked groups were addressed.

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Some lawmakers — most notably on the Foreign Relations Committee — were upset that the administration was going through the Intelligence panels rather than the full Congress.

The Senate Armed Services Committee had less of a grievance, particularly because Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) are ex-officio members of the Senate Intelligence panel.

On the House side of the Capitol, the House Armed Services Committee is holding an open hearing on Syria Wednesday, which will give the panel’s members a chance to weigh in on the U.S. role in the conflict.

Congressional opinion on U.S. intervention in Syria is mixed: hawkish Republicans and Democrats have aligned to support additional U.S. action, while liberal Democrats and libertarian-leaning Republicans have joined together to oppose getting involved.

While the Senate Armed Services panel doesn’t have an open hearing on Syria scheduled, it’s likely the issue will come up on Thursday, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey will testify at his confirmation hearing.

Dempsey and Winnefeld were both re-nominated by Obama last month for a second two-year term as chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

While Dempsey’s confirmation shows no signs of turbulence, the hearing will be a contentious affair nonetheless, as members will be able to press him on Syria, Afghanistan, Benghazi, Egypt, military sexual assault and a number of other heated issues.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel should face a more welcoming audience this week, although he is likely to get some difficult questions, too.

Hagel is taking a three-day tour of U.S. bases this week, which will take him to Fort Bragg, N.C., Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Fla., Joint Base Charleston, S.C., and Marine Corps Base Lejeune, N.C.

Hagel is planning to meet with service members, military families, civilian employees and contractors. He is taking the trip after sending Congress a letter last week that outlined the damaging affects of sequestration in 2014.

On Capitol Hill this week, the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee is holding a hearing Wednesday with the Vice Adm. James Syring, the director of the Missile Defense Agency.

The Senate panel is the only one of the four defense committees yet to put forward its budget plan for 2014. The House’s defense appropriations bill could be debated on the floor this week, as the majority leader’s office included it as a possibility on the House calendar.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is holding a hearing Tuesday on embassy security, and the House Foreign Affairs panel will be looking at last year’s Benghazi attack on Thursday. The witnesses include Raymond Maxwell, the former State employee who says he was a “scapegoat” when he was placed on leave after the attack.