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April 21, 2014

Posts in "Defense Policy"

March 12, 2014

Feinstein Shifts Slow-Burning Anger From Guns to Spies

feinstein 138 031114 445x306 Feinstein Shifts Slow Burning Anger From Guns to Spies

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Few senators wait until their 80s, or the start of their third decade in office, to have their breakout moment. But that’s what this past year has been for Dianne Feinstein.

At the end of last winter, the California Democrat surged to national renown as the most passionately vocal and dogged lawmaker in the uphill pursuit of the strictest new gun controls in more than a generation. The attention, both laudatory and condemning, was more than what most members receive in any one Congress. But now Feinstein is on course to outdo herself, with her blockbuster accusation that the CIA spied on Congress and intimidated her staff in an effort to hobble an oversight investigation into the agency’s former detention and interrogation program.

The twin crusades, which now stand to define the pinnacle of her prominence, are closely allied in one important way: Both have Feinstein playing against type, deploying blistering rhetoric and challenging hidebound practices in sharp contrast to her reputation, which is for level-headedness and deliberation.

At the same time, the two causes are polar opposites: Gun control has been a priority for the senator since 1978, when she ascended to the mayoralty of San Francisco after the incumbent, George Moscone, was assassinated. But becoming an outspoken critic of the clandestine community is an entirely new role for Feinstein; as chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee for more than five years, she has positioned herself as one of the CIA’s most loyal defenders at the Capitol.

It’s that forceful reversal that may prove more lastingly important. Full story

January 8, 2014

The Other Reed Begins to See His Senate Spotlight Brighten

Unemployment Benefits 14 010814 445x310 The Other Reed Begins to See His Senate Spotlight Brighten

Reed attended a news conference on jobless benefits Wednesday. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call)

If January’s award for biggest out-of-the-shadows move by a Senate Republican goes to Michael B. Enzi, then the companion prize for a Democrat must surely be given to Jack Reed.

Rhode Island’s senior senator takes such a somber and studious approach to his work that his name comes up as often as not at the Capitol in homonymous confusion with the majority leader. But not this week, when Reed is near the center of three of the new year’s biggest stories.

He’s the most visible face of the Democrats’ unexpected success in getting the Senate debate started on the renewal of expired jobless benefits for as many as 1.3 million of the long-term unemployed. Just out of view, he’s among the handful of senior appropriators (he chairs the Interior-Environment subpanel) working to shrink the roster of policy disputes so $1 trillion in spending decisions might get done close to on time.

And the new memoir by Robert Gates, with its surprisingly harsh criticism of President Barack Obama’s leadership and his commitment to the war in Afghanistan, is a reminder that Obama more than once seriously considered making Reed his secretary of Defense.

To top it off, the 64-year-old senator got a dollop of cute coverage Tuesday — a Washington Post “Reliable Source” item about being spotted with his 7-year-old daughter, Emily, at last weekend’s Kennedy Center matinee of the holiday musical “Elf.”

The multifaceted nature of Reed’s arrival in the spotlight is partly an accident of timing, combined with the unusual breadth of his topflight committee assignments and his increasing seniority.

It’s also a testament to how he’s something of a progressive liberal version of the conservative Enzi, a fellow member of the Senate Class of 1996 whose power profile is likely to grow in the coming year: Both are long on commitment to their ideological beliefs, but short of interest in spewing partisan animus; serious about pursuing their policy homework, but with a way-below-average level of senatorial self-importance; more interested in getting what they want out of hearings and legislative negotiations than in getting interviewed by the cable TV networks. Full story

November 18, 2013

Defense Bill’s 52-Year Record Will Be Tested Once Again

assault006 071613 445x296 Defense Bills 52 Year Record Will Be Tested Once Again

Gillibrand, left, and her allies in the Senate held a press conference earlier this year to promote their bill dealing with sexual assaults in the military. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The defense authorization bill, which the Senate looks set to debate at least for the rest of the week, is the congressional version of the movie blockbuster that has it all: An amazing array of cool hardware, whiz-bang special effects, political intrigue, spymaster secrecy and some inappropriate sexual behavior — not to mention a staggeringly big price tag.

The measure also has a unique characteristic in the annals of the modern Congress, and all the more striking given the almost totally gridlocked state of legislative affairs: A National Defense Authorization Act has been enacted annually since 1961.

That’s 52 consecutive years in which the House has passed its version of a Pentagon budget, the Senate has passed a different version and the two have been reconciled through conference negotiations. No other measure has come remotely close to that level of consistent success at mimicking the civics textbook version of how a bill becomes law. Through the deepening Cold War, Vietnam, the Reagan defense buildup, the “peace dividend” years and the post-9/11 era, the leaders of the two Armed Services panels have pushed their accomplishment rate into Joe DiMaggio territory. Like his 56-game hitting streak, the Defense authorization record has only a theoretical shot at being broken.

There’s always the chance the streak will come to an end, of course. And the next month looks to test the record’s endurance for a fourth straight year. Full story

October 22, 2013

Bill Young Funeral Arrangements Turn Tributes Into Disputes

young102213 292x335 Bill Young Funeral Arrangements Turn Tributes Into Disputes

Young, right, and then-Rep. David Obey, leaders of the Appropriations Committee, work together in 2001. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Maybe it’s tautological, but maybe, too, it’s worth a reminder that the funerals of politicians are inherently political affairs.

Still, it’s something of a gobsmacking surprise how this week’s services for C.W. Bill Young have become so overtly politicized on so many levels.

When the longest-serving congressman in Florida history, and the longest-tenured Republican in Congress, died on Oct. 18 at age 82, succumbing to complications from a chronic back injury just 10 days after announcing his retirement, he was showered with bipartisan tributes to his kindness, collegiality, collaborative skill — and relative humility for someone with such a strong hand in apportioning half a trillion dollars in military spending every year.

His were all the attributes that Republicans and Democrats alike agree are in woefully short supply in the modern Capitol. They are none of the characteristics that might predictably lead to a partisan catfight near his bier, or a wave of tea party annoyance about how generously Congress is paying its respects.

Or even an obsequious full-page tribute in The Washington Post from the nation’s biggest defense contractor. “His leadership as a great defender of our freedom will always inspire us,” Lockheed Martin gushed, leaving unspoken the irrefutable truth that Young never met a fighter jet he didn’t like. Full story

October 1, 2013

How Defense Wonks Stopped Worrying and Learned to Accept Sequester

Important shutdown news is getting lost in the rhetorical histrionics about Obamacare, the partisan power plays over blinking first and the personal strife for the furloughed federals. Topping the list: The sequester is surviving.

That’s especially true at the Pentagon. No matter what sort of miraculous bipartisan budget agreement might be hatched once the government is reopened and the debt limit raised, the sequester’s 9 percent cut to defense spending during the next decade looks to be locked in place. Full story

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