Week ahead: Defense spending, Benghazi testimony top agenda

The Senate is looking to wrap up work on its annual defense policy bill and could take up a Pentagon spending measure.

The chamber has spent days wading through amendments to the $612 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which sets spending limits for all Defense Department programs and initiatives.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) filed a procedural motion Thursday to end debate on the bill after Democrats blocked a move to attach a separate cybersecurity measure to the NDAA.

{mosads}The bill has earned a veto threat from the White House due to an extra $38 billion in war funding that would allow the Pentagon to skirt sequester budget caps.  

A Senate vote to end debate could come as soon as Tuesday.

With the policy blueprint out of the way, senators could immediately turn to the $576 billion defense spending bill, where a more contentious debate looms.

Senate Democrats have threatened to block all appropriations bills unless Republicans sit down for talks on raising the sequester spending limits put in place by the 2011 Budget Control Act. The move could stall the chamber in partisan gridlock and risk another government shutdown in the fall.

On Tuesday morning, Sidney Blumenthal, a longtime confidant of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will appear for a closed-door deposition before the House Select Committee on Benghazi.

The panel is holding that session days after the 2016 Democratic front-runner stages her first major presidential campaign rally in New York City.

Committee members are likely to ask Blumenthal about his business dealings with the transitional government in Libya and why he initially thought the deadly siege that killed four Americans was because of anti-Muslim video on the Internet. Blumenthal will also face questions about his knowledge of the personal email server Clinton used while serving as the nation’s top diplomat.

On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee will hear from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey about U.S. policy and strategy in the Middle East.

Expect the hearing to focus on President Obama’s recent admission that the U.S. doesn’t have a “complete strategy” to train and equip Iraqi forces in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Defense hawks pounced on the comment, claiming the president isn’t serious about the 10-month old campaign against the terror group.

Members are also sure to grill the officials about the administration’s decision to deploy an additional 450 troops to Iraq to help Baghdad’s security forces, as well as Dempsey’s recent comments that the U.S. could open multiple “lily pad” bases throughout the country to help Iraqi soldiers battling ISIS.


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