National Journal's CongressDailyAM
May 8, 2007
In a move calculated to avoid splitting his typically bipartisan committee into pieces, House Armed Services Chairman Skelton will shun the strong anti-war policy provisions urged by fellow Democrats when he unveils his mark of the FY08 defense authorization bill Wednesday, knowledgeable sources said Monday.
The chairman's mark will include provisions directing in-depth reports of operations in Iraq, but it will fall far short of mandating a withdrawal of U.S. forces or otherwise directing military operations in the violence-ridden country, one House aide said.
A House leadership aide confirmed that the language in Skelton's mark lacks the teeth of the Iraq provisions in the recently vetoed FY07 supplemental spending bill, but a spokesman for Speaker Pelosi would only say that no decision has been made on what to include in the defense authorization bill.
Skelton's language could placate most Republicans and at least three moderate-to-conservative Democrats on the Armed Services committee who have balked at Democratic efforts to stipulate a timeline for pulling troops out of Iraq.
Armed Services staff circulated possible Iraq language to Democratic offices before finalizing it over the weekend -- an indication aides might have arrived at enough consensus among committee Democrats to prevent any significant challenges during the markup.
Armed Services Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Martin Meehan, D-Mass., said committee members still are discussing the Iraq language. Meehan, who has been firmly opposed to the war, said he might introduce an amendment on Iraq during the markup, but would not provide details.
"It's a strategy that we're trying to work out," Meehan said.
But Meehan added that it "doesn't make any sense" to have a "standoff" over the same language that has held up enactment of the supplemental.
But there is no question among Democrats about including provisions on Iraq. Pelosi and Majority Leader Hoyer have said lawmakers could address the conflict in both the annual defense authorization and Defense appropriations bills.
For the authorization bill, Skelton wants to require the top U.S. military commander in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq to complete a review of the situation on the ground. His language includes three pages of guidelines for the review, including an assessment of Iraqi security forces and a review of trends in attacks by insurgents and al-Qaida fighters on U.S. and allied forces, the House aide said.
The chairman's mark also focuses heavily on Afghanistan, a decision that reflects a growing trend among Democrats to direct more attention to operations there.
Skelton's provisions direct the Defense Department to create a special inspector general for Afghanistan, similar to the independent investigator who has uncovered waste and fraud in the rebuilding of Iraq. He would also require Defense Secretary Gates to submit detailed plans to achieve sustainable long-term stability in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Skelton mandates a GAO review of the Pentagon's Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization, which was created in 2004 to coordinate efforts to find ways to detect, prevent and protect soldiers from roadside bombs.
Lawmakers have become increasingly alarmed that the organization has received billions of dollars in funding -- with $2.4 billion more expected in the recently vetoed FY07 supplemental spending bill -- but has been unable to stop the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Iraq. Several lawmakers are concerned the organization might not be allocating its funds appropriately, and has not measured the effectiveness of where it is now concentrating its efforts.
In other areas, Skelton's mark would promote the National Guard Bureau chief to a four-star general -- a move supported by Pentagon leaders -- but not enlarge the Joint Chiefs of Staff to include the top officer, as dozens of Guard supporters on Capitol Hill have proposed. Instead, Skelton's mark would make the National Guard chief a principal adviser to the Defense and Homeland Security secretaries. By Megan Scully, with Christian Bourge contributing