House set for 'open mic' on military

House set for 'open mic' on military

Think of it as the “open mic night” of defense spending.          

Every member of the House will have the chance on Tuesday to make recommendations for what should be in this year’s defense policy bill, which is produced by members of the House Armed Services Committee.

The annual “Member Day,” which is held like a regular, multi-panel hearing, gives lawmakers who do not sit on the panel the opportunity to advocate for military concerns back in their districts, such as supporting a base or keeping funding for a weapons program.


The event was started so that every lawmaker would have a chance to make the case for “why they wanted things in the bill. And we would listen to them as long as they came,” said former Armed Services chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), who began the tradition and retired at the end of the last Congress.

Likewise, panel members know they had “better pay attention because sometime in the future, the tables could be reversed,” McKeon told The Hill.

The event will come just under a week before Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) releases his “chairman’s mark” of the national defense authorization act (NDAA).

The committee’s seven subpanels will then dig into their respective parts of the legislation before the full panel meets on April 29 for a marathon markup session to write the bill.

The NDAA has passed Congress for 53 consecutive years, and spells out how the military should spend the defense money approved by Congress.

Just how much funding the Pentagon will receive in fiscal 2016 remains up in the air.

In February, President Obama unveiled a budget that asked for $561 in defense spending, about $38 billion over the caps set by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

Before adjourning for Easter recess, the full House approved a $3.8 trillion budget that included $523 billion in base defense spending, and $96 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, commonly known as the war fund.

While the budget committees negotiate the final “topline” numbers for spending, it’s up to the Armed Services panels to craft a blueprint for Pentagon policy.

The “Member Day” tradition, according to a House aide, is “part of the buy-in process for the defense bill.”

Around 20 lawmakers usually testify before the Armed Services panel, making five-minute statements about their priorities and fielding questions from committee members. The lineup for this year’s event is still being worked out.

One of last year’s participants was Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), whose district includes Fort Bragg, one of the military’s largest installations.

Ellmers expressed her “deep concern over the proposed inactivation of the 440th Airlift Wing located at Pope Army Airfield and my efforts to thwart this short-sighted decision lacking strategic merit,” she said in a statement to The Hill.

She also discussed the TIME Act, which sought to restructure the notification process for Tricare, the healthcare system for service members and their families.

Ellmers said she was “thrilled to see the TIME Act included as an amendment into last year’s NDAA.”

Other lawmakers who recently testified include Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnKoch-backed group urges Senate to oppose 'bailouts' of states in new ads The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Teachers' union President Randi Weingarten calls Trump administration plan to reopen schools 'a train wreck'; US surpasses 3 million COVID-19 cases The Hill's Coronavirus Report: DC's Bowser says protesters and nation were 'assaulted' in front of Lafayette Square last month; Brazil's Bolsonaro, noted virus skeptic, tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Tenn.), whose district is home to Fort Campbell.

"Member Day provides us with an important opportunity to bring forward the challenges facing our warfighters and talk about what we can do to ensure they are provided the resources, training, and funds they need," Blackburn said in a statement to The Hill.

McKeon, who now runs his own consulting firm, said it would be “impossible” to address every lawmaker concern in the policy roadmap, and that often members simply wanted to “make a political statement to show they’re working hard for their district.”

“You get some, ‘do no harm in my district,’’ said the House aide, adding the that, “God willing,” some proposals put forward by members get put into the NDAA.

While observers might label the process earmarking, “that’s rarely what it is,” the aide said.

“It’s an opportunity for members to advocate for their districts.”