Week ahead in defense: Senators pick up work on defense bill | Briefings on North Korea, Afghan troop surge

Week ahead in defense: Senators pick up work on defense bill | Briefings on North Korea, Afghan troop surge

Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Tuesday to hammer out a long list of pressing legislative issues.

Topping the defense docket is the Senate's version of the annual defense funding bill.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) is expected to return along with his colleagues and manage the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) debate after completing his first round of chemotherapy to treat brain cancer.

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The committee in late June passed its version of the NDAA, which broadly lays out policy and spending rules for the Pentagon and the military branches.

That bill authorizes $700 billion in national security spending, split into $640 billion base defense funding and $60 billion for the war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account.

The legislation, delayed by Republican attempts to repeal and replace ObamaCare, has not yet made it to the Senate floor and needs to be worked out before the 2017 budget expires on Sept. 30.

But the Senate NDAA faces several hurdles. It is already well above President Trump's budget request of $603 billion, and also far exceeds caps set under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). Lawmakers must either repeal the BCA – which sets the Pentagon base budget no higher than $549 billion -- or increase its budget caps.

Many, including Pentagon leadership, are expecting a three- or six-month continuing resolution until a final budget is agreed upon. A CR freezes current funding levels and prevents any new programs from starting, a scenario McCain has warned "will result in billion of dollars in cuts to the defense budget from last year's level -- cuts that the Department of Defense can ill afford."

With lawmakers back in session, the administration will also take the chance to brief all members of the Senate and House on North Korea and Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonWhite House: Trump will not meet formally with Putin Trump meeting with Putin expected to take place Friday: report Flake: 'Conspiracy theorist' Flynn never belonged as national security adviser MORE, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisAfter Texas shooting, lawmakers question whether military has systemic reporting problem In Africa, defense without diplomacy and development is a losing strategy McCain pledges 'rigorous oversight' after Air Force failure to report Texas gunman's conviction MORE, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford and Director of National Intelligence Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsCounterintelligence needs reboot for 21st century Ending FISA’s sunset provisions is not a risk worth taking Overnight Cybersecurity: Facebook's Sandberg backs release of Russian ads | Watchdog to probe alleged FCC cyberattack | Trump officially nominates new DHS head MORE on Wednesday will hold separate briefings for the two chambers to allow lawmakers to ask about President Trump's decision to increase the U.S. footprint in Afghanistan.

The meetings come as Mattis reveled last week he has signed deployment orders to send more troops to Afghanistan, and after North Korea launched a missile that crossed over Japan.

Tillerson, Mattis and Dunford came to the capitol in July to brief lawmakers on the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and in April senators traveled to the White House for a closed-door briefing on North Korea.

Mattis will also offer lawmakers help in resolving the budget uncertainty.

"We will work with them. We've already got meetings scheduled to sit down with them and talk with them about the way forward," Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon last week.

"Is it going to be a budget? Is it going to be a CR? It'd be a short-term CR – all those things, we've got to work with Congress on."

While the Senate works on the NDAA, there are a range of hearings on defense issues in Congress.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs will mark up its fiscal 2018 bill at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Dirksen 124.

A Senate Foreign Relations subpanel will have a hearing on the U.S.- Turkey relationship with testimony from outside experts at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Dirksen 419.

A House Foreign Affairs subpanel will hold a hearing on maintaining U.S. influence in South Asia with testimony from government officials at 10 a.m. Thursday at Rayburn 2172.

A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee will hear from the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism in deciding the department's counterterrorism bureau fiscal 2018 budget at 2 p.m. Thursday at Rayburn 2172.

The House Armed Services Committee will have a hearing on Navy readiness and the underlying problems tied to the USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain collisions. They will hear testimony from Navy officials at 2 p.m. Thursday at Rayburn 2118.

 

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