Executive and Legislative Branch Activity

Defense Authorization, Budget and the Sequester

The Senate is in session this week, while the House is in recess. The Fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (S.1197) is expected to be debated on the Senate floor the week of November 18. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) Chair Carl Levin (D-MI) said he expects lively debate on several topics in S. 1197, including the Chairman’s language that provides greater flexibility to transfer detainees from Guantánamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba. Other issues likely to be debated include Syria, sexual assault, and possibly Egypt. SASC Chair Levin has warned,

“We’ve got to keep the amendments relevant to the defense bill.”

Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chair Tom Harkin (D-IA) has indicated he may attempt to add a provision to the NDAA to raise the minimum wage – a Democratic Party priority. SASC Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) indicated he may offer amendments to the NDAA to avert the impacts of sequestration on the Pentagon. This Thursday, November 7, SASC Chairman Levin will convene a hearing on the impact of sequestration on national defense.

Last Wednesday, October 30, the Budget Conference Committee convened, with co-Chairs House Budget Chair Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) emerging as the two principal negotiators of the 29-member panel. The budget conferees are expected to next meet Wednesday, November 13. In the interim, ad hoc groups of conferees are forming. Senate Budget Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) has met with some members of the SASC who serve on the committee to discuss sequester replacement ideas.

Of the twelve FY 2014 appropriations bills, (1) Defense (H.R. 2397), (2) Military Construction-Veterans Affairs (H.R. 2216) and (3) Homeland Security (H.R. 2217) are the most advanced, having passed in the House with some Democratic support and moved through the Senate Appropriations Committee with some Republican support. These three security-related spending measures are better positioned for immediate congressional action should the Budget Conference Committee negotiate a deal by December 13.

National Security Agency

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said last week she would initiate a review of all U.S. intelligence programs. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)suggested a select committee  instead be established to review U.S. surveillance programs. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) generally welcomed the review but noted an imbalance exists between obligations of keeping U.S. citizens safe and obligations to allies.

The House Intelligence Committee is expected to mark-up its legislation to address recent media disclosures about the National Security Agency when the House returns the week of November 11. The committee is also expected to schedule a markup date on the FY 2014 Intelligence Authorization Act.

Security Clearance

In response to the September Navy Yard tragedy, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill last week to overhaul the security clearance process (S. 1618). The legislation would, among other things, address self-reporting concerns by requiring two randomly timed audits within every five-year period of a security clearance.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Thursday, November 7: The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing titled “Impact of Sequestration on the National Defense.”