Week ahead: Lawmakers scramble to finish defense bill

Lawmakers returning to Capitol Hill face a number of national security issues with only two weeks left in the 113th Congress.

At the top of the to-do list for House and Senate lawmakers is agreeing to a compromise fiscal 2015 Defense authorization bill before the lame-duck session ends.

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Talks between the retiring heads of the House and Senate Armed Services panels — Rep. Buck McKeonHoward (Buck) Philip McKeonCivil rights activist Dolores Huerta endorses California Democratic House challenger Bottom Line Trump pick brings scrutiny to 'revolving door' between Pentagon, industry MORE (R-Calif.) and Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinOvernight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden pays tribute to late Sen. Levin: 'Embodied the best of who we are' Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm dead at 85 MORE (D-Mich.) — have stalled over Defense Department proposals that raise out-of-pocket fees for Tricare, the health plan for military families, and make service members pay more money for their housing.

The House rejected those ideas in the bill it approved earlier this year, but the Senate version includes them.

Before the Thanksgiving break, Levin told reporters he hoped to unveil a compromise bill the first week of December, but there have reportedly been no breakthroughs in the negotiations.

Congress has approved a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 52 consecutive years.

Levin’s panel will also meet Tuesday morning to consider a stack of Pentagon nominations at what could be the Michigan lawmaker’s last hearing as chairman.

The House Armed Services Committee will convene that same morning to hear testimony on the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review, a top-to-bottom examination that guides defense spending and priorities over the long term.

One of the witnesses will be Michèle Flournoy, a former DOD official who was seen as a front-runner to replace outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelAfghan interpreter who helped rescue Biden: 'If they find me, they will kill me' Afghan interpreter who helped extract Biden, other senators in 2008 asks president to save him Democrats defend Afghan withdrawal amid Taliban advance MORE.

Also on Tuesday morning, House Foreign Affairs subcommittees on terrorism and the Middle East will hold a joint hearing on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the threat of foreign fighters.

Stemming the tide of foreign fighters has been an integral part of President Obama’s anti-ISIS strategy, securing a United Nations Security Council resolution in September demanding countries toughen their laws to choke the flow of potential recruits to terror groups.

Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will meet to consider a pair of diplomatic nominees, including Peter McKinley to be the next U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower will hear from experts on the role of maritime and air power in the DOD’s “Third Offset Strategy.” The plan was unveiled a few weeks ago by Hagel as a way for the Pentagon to maintain the military’s technological edge in a time of tightening budgets.

Off Capitol Hill on Wednesday, the Foreign Policy Initiative will host a daylong conference titled A World In Crisis: The Need for American Leadership.

Speakers include potential 2016 presidential candidates like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R); Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the incoming leaders of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations panels; Sen.-elect Tom Cotton (R-Ark.); Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.); and former diplomats.

 

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