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Analysis: Sketching The Conflict Over The Defense Authorization

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David Hawkings, CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

The Senate Armed Services committee begins work this week on National Defense Authorization Act that would have a significant effect on federal employees and contractors in our areas. A version passed by the House would give military personnel a 1.7 percent pay raise and sets defense spending much higher than a White House proposal, but that is provoking veto threats. David Hawkings, editor-in-chief of CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing speaks with Matt McCleskey about the nature of the disagreement on defense. Following are highlights of his analysis.

Hawkings on the White House's threat to veto the defense authorization: "The House bill would continue paying for weapons systems and other programs that the Obama administration says it can do without. As a result, as you eluded to, this bill would spend $8 billion more than the amount that Obama and the Congress agreed should be spent way back last summer when we had the famous debt and deficit crisis. At the last minute, they solved that crisis by setting some spending limits for defense, this bill would spend $8 billion more than they agreed to. Though, to be fair, President Obama's plan would increase that amount by $4 billion."

Hawkings on the version the Senate will draft this week: "The old adage is that Congress generally agrees on 95 percent of the Defense budget, but it's that last 5 percent that can make an awful lot of delay and consternation. In general, the Senate is going to go along with what the House has agreed to. There will, however, be a handful of disagreements on these weapons systems. For example, on some big things, both sides on the House and Senate want to prevent the administration from cutting the Air National Guard. They want to prevent the administration from raising the amount that retirees have to spend on their healthcare."

"The things on which they disagree — detainees is a big one. The Democrats in the Senate and the Republicans in the House have subtley different but important for civil liberties ideas about when a suspected terrorist should ever be tried in the United States."

Hawkings on whether they will compromise on a deal that President Obama will be willing to sign: "The best answer to that is: they always have. This is one of the few truly must-pass bills that Congress takes up every year. It's been more than 40 years since they were unable to get a deal. Sometimes it takes until the last minute. A couple years ago, when the debate over whether to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell raged on, it took until just before Christmas to get a deal done. Given the pace of things, given the fact that we're deeper and deeper into the political season, more and more breaks for campaigning, two party conventions, a short recess before the election. I imagine it will take well into that lame duck session to get this done."

Hawkings on the stakes for contractors and members for the military in our area: "This bill is more than half a trillion dollars. It is essentially more than half of the discretionary money — the money that Congress actually gets to decide to spend every year is knit up in this... Every defense contractor in Washington, whether it's somebody that makes a tiny widget that goes into a machine, or a super-large one like Lockheed Martin or Boeing, they all have a piece in this fight. Everybody who is in uniform or in civilian clothes that works at these military bases has something to do, not only in their own pay, but the programs that they work on will be shifted in some way."

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