Sunday, July 26, 2009

Considered Forthwith: Armed Services committees

Welcome to the 18th installment of "Considered Forthwith."

This weekly series looks at the various committees in the House and the Senate. Committees are the workshops of our democracy. This is where bills are considered, revised, and occasionally advance for consideration by the House and Senate. Most committees also have the authority to exercise oversight of related executive branch agencies.

This week, I will look at the House Armed Services Committee and Senate Armed Forces Committees. Obviously, these members are the ones to contact to advance the bill that would repeal the "Don't ask/don't tell policy." These are also the committees that need a proverbial kick in the pants to advance legislation that would close Gitmo. More information below.

Committee membership

First, here are the members of the House Committee:

Democrats: Ike Skelton, Chairman, Missouri; John M. Spratt, Jr., South Carolina; Solomon P. Ortiz, Texas; Gene Taylor, Mississippi; Neil Abercrombie, Hawai'i; Silvestre Reyes, Texas; Vic Snyder, Arkansas; Adam Smith, Washington; Loretta Sanchez, California; Mike McIntyre, North Carolina; Robert A. Brady, Pennsylvania; Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey; Susan A. Davis, California; James R. Langevin, Rhode Island; Rick Larsen, Washington; Jim Cooper, Tennessee; Jim Marshall, Georgia; Madeleine Bordallo, Guam; Brad Ellsworth, Indiana; Patrick Murphy, Pennsylvania; Hank Johnson, Georgia; Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire; Joe Courtney, Connecticut; David Loebsack, Iowa; Joe Sestak, Pennsylvania; Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona; Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts; Glenn Nye, Virginia; Chellie Pingree, Maine; Larry Kissell, North Carolina; Martin Heinrich, New Mexico; Frank Kratovil, Maryland; Eric Massa, New York; Bobby Bright, Alabama; Scott Murphy, New York; Dan Boren, Oklahoma

Republicans: John M. McHugh, Ranking Member, New York; Roscoe Bartlett, Maryland; Buck McKeon, California; Mac Thornberry, Texas; Walter B. Jones, North Carolina; Todd Akin, Missouri; Randy Forbes, Virginia; Jeff Miller, Florida; Joe Wilson, South Carolina; Frank LoBiondo, New Jersey; Rob Bishop, Utah; Mike Turner, Ohio; John Kline, Minnesota; Mike Rogers, Alabama; Trent Franks, Arizona; Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania; Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington; Mike Conaway, Texas; Doug Lamborn, Colorado; Rob Wittman, Virginia; Mary Fallin, Oklahoma; Duncan D. Hunter, California; John C. Fleming, Louisiana; Mike Coffman, Colorado; Tom Rooney, Florida

Here are the members of the Senate committee:

Democrats: Carl Levin (Michigan), Chairman; Edward M. Kennedy (Massachusetts); Robert C. Byrd (West Virginia); Joseph I. Lieberman (Connecticut); Jack Reed (Rhode Island); Daniel K. Akaka (Hawaii); Bill Nelson (Florida); Ben Nelson (Nebraska); Evan Bayh (Indiana); Jim Webb (Virginia); Claire McCaskill (Missouri); Mark Udall (Colorado); Kay R. Hagan (North Carolina); Mark Begich (Alaska); Roland W. Burris (Illinois)

Republicans: John McCain (Arizona), Ranking Member; James M. Inhofe (Oklahoma); Jeff Sessions (Alabama); Saxby Chambliss (Georgia); Lindsey Graham (South Carolina); John Thune (South Dakota); Mel Martinez (Florida); Roger F. Wicker (Mississippi); Richard Burr (North Carolina); David Vitter (Louisiana); Susan M. Collins (Maine)

These are relatively large committees for several reasons. For one thing, the military is the largest bureaucracy within the federal government, so the oversight and law-making functions are important.

More importantly, this is the authorizing committee for defense projects. For more background about the difference between authorizing and appropriating, check out my diary on the Appropriations Committees. In a nutshell, authorizing committees decide which projects to pursue while the appropriations committees decide whether or not to fund them. This is particularly important since the defense budget represents more than half of the government's discretionary spending.

Senate Committee Assignments

The House committees are fairly flexible in terms of how large they can be. As a result, the more prominent committees tend to have large memberships in order to accommodate members' preferences. Senate assignments rules, on the other hand, are very formalized. The two parties make their assignments and those are formally approved early in the session.

All of the Senate committees are classified as Super A, A, B, or C depending on the prominence and workload of the committee. Armed Services is one of the Democrats' five Super A committees. The others are Finance; Appropriations; Foreign Relations' and Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Republicans do not count Commerce, Science, and Transportation to be a Super A committee.

Chamber rules state that Senators are limited to service on two Class Super A/ Class A committees and one Class B committee. There are no limits on service on the Class C committees. Both Parties' rules limit members to service on only one Super A committee. For more about committee and chair assignments, check out the Senate's web page on these rules.


Here is the formal jurisdiction of the House Armed Services Committee:

(1) Ammunition depots; forts; arsenals; and Army, Navy, and Air Force reservations and establishments.
(2) Common defense generally.
(3) Conservation, development, and use of naval petroleum and oil shale reserves.
(4) The Department of Defense generally, including the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, generally.
(5) Interoceanic canals generally, including measures relating to the maintenance, operation, and administration of interoceanic canals.
(6) Merchant Marine Academy and State Maritime Academies.
(7) Military applications of nuclear energy.
(8) Tactical intelligence and intelligence-related activities of the Department of Defense.
(9) National security aspects of merchant marine, including financial assistance for the construction and operation of vessels, maintenance of the U.S. shipbuilding and ship repair industrial base, cabotage, cargo preference, and merchant marine officers and seamen as these matters relate to the national security.
(10) Pay, promotion, retirement, and other benefits and privileges of members of the armed forces.
(11) Scientific research and development in support of the armed services.
(12) Selective service.
(13) Size and composition of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.
(14) Soldiers’ and sailors’ homes.
(15) Strategic and critical materials necessary for the common defense.

And here's the Senate Committee's official jurisdiction:

1. Aeronautical and space activities peculiar to or primarily associated with the development of weapons systems or military operations.

2. Common defense.

3. Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, the Department of the Navy, and the Department of the Air Force, generally.

4. Maintenance and operation of the Panama Canal, including administration, sanitation, and government of the Canal Zone.

5. Military research and development.

6. National security aspects of nuclear energy.

7. Naval petroleum reserves, except those in Alaska.

8. Pay, promotion, retirement, and other benefits and privileges of members of the Armed Forces, including overseas education of civilian and military dependents.

9. Selective service system.

10. Strategic and critical materials necessary for the common defense.

(2) Such committee shall also study and review, on a comprehensive basis, matters relating to the common defense policy of the United States, and report thereon from time to time.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

I won't get into the politics of DADT, except to say that I support a repeal and allowing gay and bisexual soldiers to serve in the military. For one thing, there are issues of equality to consider. For another, the military has very few Arabic and Farsi speakers and too many have been discharged under DADT.

Homosexuality in the U.S. military goes back to the Revolutionary War when Lt. Frederick Gotthold Enslin was drummed out of the service for attempting to engage in sodomy with another solider. For many decades, "sodomy" was classified as a crime under the Articles of War. In 1942, the policy of discharge for homosexuality was officially codified. Depending on the circumstances, soldiers discharged after being caught engaging in homosexual activity often could not collect veterans' benefits. Draftees during the Vietnam era sometimes claimed to be gay to avoid the draft.


One of Bill Clinton's early efforts was to repeal the policy and allow gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to serve openly. Naturally the homophobes balked. The eventual compromise -- DADT -- was authored by Colin Powell and included in the Fiscal Year 1994 Defense Authorization Bill.

The repeal movement's current champion is Rep. Patrick Murphy (Pa-08). The former U.S. Army lawyer has introduced legislation in the last three Congresses to overturn DADT and allow gays, lesbians, and bisexuals to serve openly. Currently the bill is in the House Subcommittee on Military personnel. Murphy is a member and Susan A. Davis of California is the subcommittee chair. More information on the subcommittees appears below. Murphy's bill has 164 co-sponsors, but it is more important to get Chairwoman Davis to bring the bill to a markup/vote in the subcommittee and get Chairman Skelton to do the same in the full committee.

Other current issues

House Committee hearings: The House Committee has several hearings scheduled for this week, including professional development in the military, psychological stress of members of the military, and an assessment of the U.S.-Russian security arrangement.

Senate Committee hearings: This Week, the Senate Committee is dealing with several nominations, including Secretary of the Army.

Update: How did I miss this? The nominee for Secretary of the Army is John McHugh, the ranking member of the House Committee.

Gitmo: Both committees are dealing with the question of what to do with the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Earlier this month, the Senate Committee received testimony on the legal issues surrounding holding trials for the prisoners. Here is a link to the testimony and a webcast of the hearing. The House Committee last week marked up House Resolution 602 which would:

Requesting that the President and directing that the Secretary of Defense transmit to the House of Representatives all information in their possession relating to specific communications regarding detainees and foreign persons suspected of terrorism.

In addition, there are numerous bills in the two committees relating to the closing of Gitmo. The problem, of course, is that he have to find homes for the innocent and hold trials for the rest. Since the Bush Administration did exactly zero on this issue, this might unfortunately take a while. This is an issue we need to continue to pursue. We need to identify, try and punish the guilty and release the innocents.

Defense Authorization Act: Each year, Congress must pass the Defense Authorization Act, which sets the spending priorities for the Department of Defense for the year and make any Congressionally-directed policy changes like it did with DADT. (It will be up to the appropriations committees to actually fund those programs). The Senate passed the bill on Thursday. This was the bill that cut the authorization for those F-22s and expanded the hate crimes law. The House has already passed their version with significant differences. This bill will got to conference committee and a final vote will probably take place this fall. A full summary of the House version is on the committee's home page and here is the easy to understand round up from Congress Matters.


Here is a brief run down of the subcommittees.

House subcommittees:


Military readiness, training, logistics and maintenance issues and programs. In addition, the subcommittee will be responsible for all military construction, installations and family housing issues, including the base closure process, and energy policy and programs of the Department of Defense.

Chair: Solomon Ortiz, Texas
Ranking member: J. Randy Forbes, Virginia

Seapower and Expeditionary Forces:

Navy and Marine Corps acquisition programs (except strategic weapons, space, special operations, and information technology programs) and Naval Reserve equipment. In addition, the subcommittee will be responsible for maritime programs under the jurisdiction of the Committee as delineated in paragraphs 5, 6, and 9 of clause 1(c) of rule X of the Rules of the House of Representatives.

Chair: Gene Taylor, Mississippi
Ranking member: W. Todd Akin, Missouri

Air and Land Forces:

All Army and Air Force acquisition programs (except strategic missiles, special operations and information technology programs). In addition, the subcommittee will be responsible for deep strike bombers and related systems, National Guard and Army and Air Force reserve modernization, and ammunition programs.

Chair: Neil Abercrombie, Hawaii
Ranking member: Roscoe Bartlett, Maryland

Oversight and Investigations:

Any matter within the jurisdiction of the Committee, subject to the concurrence of the Chairman of the Committee and, as appropriate, affected subcommittee chairmen. The subcommittee shall have no legislative jurisdiction.

Chair: Vic Snyder, Arkansas
Ranking member: Rob Wittman, Virginia

Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities:

Department of Defense counter-proliferation and counter-terrorism programs and initiatives. In addition, the subcommittee will be responsible for Special Operations Forces; science and technology policy, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and information technology programs; force protection policy; homeland defense and consequence management programs within the Committee’s jurisdiction; and related intelligence support.

Chair: Adam Smith, Washington
Ranking member: Jeff Miller, Florida

Strategic Forces:

Strategic weapons (except deep strike bombers and related systems), space programs, ballistic missile defense, intelligence policy and national programs, and Department of Energy national security programs (except non-proliferation programs).

Chair: Jim Langevin, Rhode Island
Ranking member: Michael Turner, Ohio

Military Personnel:

Military personnel policy, reserve component integration and employment issues, military health care, military education, and POW/MIA issues. In addition, the subcommittee will be responsible for Morale, Welfare and Recreation issues and programs.

Chair: Susan A. Davis, California
Ranking member: Joe Wilson, South Carolina

Source for jurisdictions

Senate Subcommittees
Emerging Threats and Capabilities
Readiness and Management Support
Strategic Forces

I don't have jurisdiction statements for the Senate subcommittees, but the membership lists are available at the link above.

For more about other committees, check out my previous work:
Small Business Committees
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming
The Committee Primer
House Education and Labor Committee
Senate Finance Committee
Senate HELP Committee
Senate Judiciary Committee
House Energy and Commerce Committee
House Ways and Means Committee
House and Senate Appropriations Committees
House Intelligence Committee
House Judiciary Committee
House and Senate Ethics Committees
House Science and Technology Committee
House Financial Services Committee
House Rules Committee
The Role of Committees

Note: Blogger Union rules state that, after doing this for 18 weeks with no pay, I get next weekend off. I almost feel like a Senator taking August off.

Crossposted on Daily Kos, Congress Matters, Docudharma, and my own blog.

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