The Week That Was In the House: Busy, But Not Productive

By John Isaacs

The House has been active on the national security front this past week, virtually simultaneously dealing with the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the House Armed Services Committee and both the Energy & Water Appropriations Bill and the Military Construction & Veteran Affairs Appropriations Bill on the House floor. Debate has been fierce but usually headed in the wrong direction.

Mark-up in the Armed Services Committee began at 10:00 on Wednesday and voting has lasted 4:39 A.M. Exhaustion did not improve the product.

Military Construction & Veteran Affairs
Three amendments were offered by the odd couple of very conservative Mick Mulvaney (R- S.C. 5) and Senate hopeful Chris Van Hollen (D- Md. 8) to block irregular Pentagon spending increases in the off-budget war account/slush fund called Overseas Contingency Operations. Together, the amendments would have struck $532 million from the $90 billion war fund. All three received bipartisan support, though predominantly by Democrats, and all three failed 191-229, 192-229, and 190-231.

An amendment to provide $30 million for an East Coast missile defense system — that the Pentagon doesn’t want — was adopted by voice vote. Offered by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R- N.Y. 21), this could be a down payment on a system that easily could cost $3 billion or more. Not coincidentally, one of four potential sites for this defense is Fort Drum located in Stefanik’s district in New York. Oddly, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio 10) thanked Stefanik for supporting her own amendment, perhaps tipping his hand to who was really responsible.

Energy and Water
In House floor action on the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, two amendments failed to cut funding for a newnuclear cruise missile the Pentagon doesn’t need. The first amendment, offered by Rep. Mike Quigley (D- Ill. 5) to cut $167 million from the cruise missile’s budget failed 165-257. The second, offered by Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif. 3) to trim just $25 million, lost by a larger margin of 149-272.

On a rare positive note, an amendment to increase funding for nuclear smuggling detection programs was accepted by voice vote.  The amendment, offered by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R- Neb. 1), transfers $13.8 million to the nonproliferation programs from the delay-riddled and over-budget Mixed Oxide Fuel project, in effect killing two birds with one radiating chunk of uranium.

National Defense Authorization Act
The worst setbacks for the week occurred in the most hostile environment in Congress:  the House Armed Services Committee. The Republican majority putting together the Fiscal Year 2016 defense authorization bill continues to obstruct all Obama Administration plans to change U.S. nuclear weapons posture, close the Guantanamo Bay prison and launch a new round of base closings.

Among the unfortunate nuclear and missile defense provisions in the House Armed Services bill:
•    Expanded the sea-based deterrent fund to pay for unaffordable nuclear submarines.
•    Mandated that the Pentagon be prepared to deploy within two years weapons in Europe in response to Russian INF Treaty violations.
•    Added $30 million for an East Coast missile defense as a down payment on a $3 billion system that the Pentagon does not want.
•    Pushed space-based, boost-phase and multiple kill vehicle missile defenses that have been previously rejected as ineffective and too expensive.
•    Defeated amendments to permit adding non-proliferation funding.
•    Cut nuclear verification funding.
•    Trimmed nuclear weapons dismantlement funding by $50 million, which the amendment labeled in the title as “unilateral disarmament.”
•    Rejected a modest request for a report on a 25 year estimate of nuclear modernization costs.

One thing we know for sure: the House will not do more damage next week because it will be out of session.