Four National Security Issues Awaiting Congress After (Latest) Recess

The view from the US Capitol rotunda. Both the House and Senate return this week with a myriad issues to cover. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The view from the US Capitol rotunda. Both the House and Senate return this week with a myriad of issues to cover. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

That repeated screeching noise you hear is the sound of House and Senate aides’ tires peeling away from the curb at National Airport outside Washington. Both chambers are back for three weeks before their next break. After the jump is a look at the leading national defense issues that should drive the next few weeks: Russia, appropriations and senators feuding with the CIA. Never a dull moment.

1. Russia. While US lawmakers were back home running for re-election and raising campaign cash for themselves and their friends, Vladimir Putin was busy.

Putin annexed the Crimea region of neighboring Ukraine, and took a number of shots at Western leaders. He even slapped sanctions on US lawmakers in response to Washington slapping sanctions on Russian leaders.

GOP lawmakers have savaged US President Barack Obama’s handling of the Crimea crisis. They want a more muscular American response, including pressing for new arms to Ukraine’s military.

Will Senate Democrats join Republicans in some kind of legislation forcing Obama to provide new weapons as Russia continues to mass forces on its border with Ukraine?

2. Appropriations Bills. Since the Republican and Democratic leaders of the chambers’ budget panels worked out a two-year budget blueprint late last year, some members have been predicting the return of “regular order.”

That’s Capitol Hill speak for the practice of passing yearly department-specific spending bills, something Congress has failed to do in recent years. For a variety of reasons — all political.

There are signs it might happen. But it’s practically April in a year with a truncated election-cycle session for both chambers. That means there is less time to complete bills such as the 2015 defense appropriations bill.

The House has a much better record in this area of late. So will there be new signs during the coming three-week run that the Senate — finally — will be heading back to “regular order”?

3. DoD Budget. And speaking of the Pentagon appropriations bill, some senators are expecting more data about the Obama administration’s 2015 spending plan.

Specifically, what members such as Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., says lawmakers and staffers believe is a confusing long-term DoD spending plan known as the future years defense program, or FYDP.

Both armed services panels are moving ahead with crafting their versions of Pentagon authorization legislation.

But can the appropriations committees do the same without a clearer picture of DoD’s long term plans and needs?

4. CIA vs. Senate Democrats. This near-scandal broke into public just before lawmakers left this month.

The spy agency has managed to pick — errr, get into a — very public fight with perhaps its closest ally on Capitol Hill. Maybe its closest ally in Washington.

Can Director John Brennan make peace with the panel before it acts on any legislation the agency would oppose? And does the feud mean national-security oversight is making a comeback?

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett