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Thanks for your interest in Washington, D.C., and thanks for reading This Week in Washington.
We lost Bob Dole last weekend – a giant of a man who was one of the last of the Greatest Generation. His passing brought back memories for me and so many others of working with Leader Dole, and of a different time. I have included many of these memories in my tribute to Senator Dole.
Congressman Kevin Brady served as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee and played an oversized role in passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017. He is currently the Ranking Member of Ways and Means and is a masterful legislator on the issues before this committee. Congressman Erik Paulsen spent some time with his friend and former colleague, and his interview with Congressman Brady is in this week’s Total Spectrum Spotlight.
Everyone is counting down the days until Christmas, and I think we can start to see how this legislative year might conclude. Minority Leader McConnell and Majority Leader Schumer have worked out a way that Democrats can take the lead and pass a debt ceiling bill. There is every reason to believe that there will be a short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open. Ultimately the National Defense Authorization Act needs to pass, so it probably will, but the how is a little weaker than the why. Al Jackson elaborates on the defense authorization bill in his Defense Update. Ramona Lessen provides a report on a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-Russia Policy.
Majority Leader Schumer wrote a letter to his Democratic colleagues on December 6th. He wanted a vote on the Senate floor on the President’s Build Back Better bill before Christmas, but there has not been a great deal of progress. The Senate Parliamentarian is currently reviewing the bill to determine which parts of it are appropriate for a budget reconciliation bill, and Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) will have time to review and mold the bill after the Parliamentarian has made their decisions. Smart money is predicting that the Build Back Better bill will be kicked into next year.
The Senate and the House are scheduled to begin their Christmas recess on December 13th. My bet is that Congress will complete all they can and leave the remainder until 2022. As a great friend of mine said, “There is not much to be gained by sticking around until Christmas when nothing is going to get done.”
We will be back next week for our year end wrap-up issue of This Week.
Total Spectrum Managing Director
Total Spectrum Spotlight
Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX)
This week, Total Spectrum’s Erik Paulsen interviews Texas Congressman Kevin Brady. With this being his last year in office, they reflect on his 24+ years in Congress, discuss current events, and pay tribute to Senator Bob Dole.
Remembering Bob Dole
By Steve Gordon, Total Spectrum Managing Director
Everyone who was in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s and 1990s has stories and recollections about Republican Leader Bob Dole, and I’m no exception. He was a man who was raised in the Depression and was maimed for life in World War II, but who used courage and determination to overcome his injuries and become a master of the U.S. Senate.
He died Sunday at age 98.
I first met Senator Bob Dole in the autumn of 1984, when he traveled to Minnesota to be the special guest at a fundraising event for my boss and mentor Senator Rudy Boschwitz. Senator Dole was at that time one of a gaggle of Senators who wanted to replace Howard Baker (R-TN) as the Senate Majority Leader.
Senator Dole was a familiar name to most of us in Minnesota. He had been Chairman of the National Republican Committee from 1971 to 1973, and in 1976 President Ford selected him to be his Vice-Presidential nominee. Senator Dole served on both the Senate Agriculture and Finance Committees, both of which are critically important to Minnesotans.
About 250 people came out on a bitter cold winter day in Minnesota to support Senator Boschwitz and to hear Senator Dole, and I don’t remember anyone leaving disappointed. Senator Dole had the audience in the palm of his hand from the minute he walked into the room. He was tall and well dressed, with the trademark pen in his damaged right hand. He spoke with a flat-Kansas accent and won over the crowd with his smile and razor-sharp wit.
Senator Boschwitz won his reelection campaign that November. Senator Dole defeated Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana and Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska to become the next Majority Leader.
I was honored to work closely with the Leader and his team for many years and served as an occasional consultant and a consistent advisor to his political operation.
Bob Dole was a product of growing up poor in Kansas during the Depression, where he learned about hard work and determination. He was severely wounded in 1945 and came home mostly paralyzed in a body cast. He spent over three years recovering from his injuries, and always credited a Chicago surgeon for getting him back on his feet. But he would never have any use of his right arm, only modest feeling in his left hand, and he was in constant pain.
Washington is full of show horses. Senator Dole was proud to be a work horse. He knew the Senate rules and procedures and cast over 12,000 votes. His conservative philosophy didn’t always fit into the supply-side economics of the 1980s, and he didn’t always agree with Speaker Newt Gingrich. But Senator Dole was a skilled legislator who didn’t think that compromise was always a bad thing, and he often joked that a 60% victory was still a victory.
He was a consistent conservative who felt there were some things that government just had to do. He worked with a bipartisan group in 1983 to stabilize the Social Security Trust Fund. He opposed cuts in the food stamp program, and he championed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.
Senator Dole did have a sharp tongue, but he also had a great wit. The Senate Agriculture Committee was working on a Farm Bill, and he brought up an amendment to get rid of locusts that were attacking Kansas. After it passed, he told a friend with a twinkle in his eye that “…we took the hopper out of those little hoppers.”
I have three mental pictures of Senator Dole burned into my memory. The first was his farewell speech when he resigned from the Senate in 1996 to campaign full time for the Presidency. The second was about 10 years later when we were together at a funeral for a mutual friend. It was the first time I witnessed him needing two staffers to help him stand. The third picture is of a wheelchair-bound Bob Dole paying his last respects to President George H. W. Bush – being held up by aides as he saluted the coffin with his left hand.
Senator Dole took a lead in creating the World War II Memorial on the National Mall, and then he led the push to complete the Eisenhower Memorial.
Bob Dole was indeed part of the Greatest Generation. But his commitment to country, strength of character, integrity, and uncommon common sense will remain North Stars for many future generations.
He laid in state at the Capitol on Thursday, and a funeral service will be held at the Washington Cathedral today. Additional services are being planned in his native Kansas.
Rest in peace Leader Dole, and thank you for your service.
The House just passed a compromise version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)and sent it to the Senate for consideration. Leadership in both chambers hope this version of the NDAA bill will not be amended, as only days remaining in the legislative year with the House planning to adjourn this Friday.
The legislation endorses a $25 billion increase over the defense budget request for Fiscal Year 2022, bringing the top line number to $768 billion for national defense, of which $28 billion funds Energy Department nuclear weapons programs. The House voted 363-70 to approve the NDAA, which was finalized earlier in the day by negotiators with the House and Senate Armed Services committees. Nineteen Republicans and 51 Democrats voted no.
The bill includes an additional 12 F/A-18 Super Hornets for the Navy; five more Boeing F-15EX jets than the request for 17 total; and 13 ships total, which includes two attack submarines and two destroyers, totaling five more than the request. The bill also includes an authorization of funding for 48 new F-35s. The bill has now been passed for 60 years in a row, and defense lawmakers warned that failing to pass the bill this year would negatively impact the Pentagon’s modernization efforts to counter the growth of Chinese military aggression.
Now the bill heads to the Senate, where there’s some bipartisan resistance to the “weakened” military justice reform provisions. The two most prominent changes in the compromise legislation relate to military justice reforms and the issue of women being required to register with the Selective Service System. In the compromise plan, the Defense Department would create an independent prosecutorial office within each service to handle some serious crimes, including rape, sexual assault, murder, manslaughter, and kidnapping. The intent of the legislation is to ensure those crimes are handled by specially trained officials, rather than military commanders unfamiliar with the legal specifics.
It’s unclear whether the Senate, like the House, will approve the bill without considering more amendments. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is leading a small bipartisan group that is unhappy with compromise military justice provisions after pushing for stronger reforms to combat sexual assault in the ranks. They’re calling for their reform bill, which previously garnered strong support in both chambers, to get a new vote in the Senate. That legislation created broader reforms that would involve all serious crimes being taken away from the traditional military chain of command. Senator Gillibrand stated that the compromise language is “a major setback on behalf of service members, women and survivors in particular,” because it did not go far enough to take authority for the prosecution of serious crimes away from military commanders. However, Senator Gillibrand did not say if she would work to block passage of the NDAA. House and Senate lawmakers have also backed plans to add women to potential future military drafts, saying that the current male-only system is antiquated given that women now can serve in all military jobs.
In another victory for Arizona, Congress once again denied the U.S. Air Force’s request to retire the A-10 Warthog in the NDAA. Davis Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson is home to 42 A-10 Warthogs. Overall, there are 281 A-10 aircraft that remain in service. However, the Air Force will be allowed to retire more than 160 legacy aircraft of other types, helping to free up funding for new technologies. The list of aircraft includes certain C-130s, KC-10s and KC-135s.
While the NDAA legislation sets policy and authorizes funds, it does not appropriate the money the Pentagon spends. Congress recently averted a government shutdown by passing another continuing resolution (CR), funding the government until February 18, 2022. Some Congressional leaders have suggested a full yearlong CR, which prompted Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to issue a statement on December 6 indicating a yearlong CR would cause “enormous, if not irreparable, damage” to national defense priorities.
As it relates to the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, the Senate Appropriations Committee (SAC), contrary to the administration’s proposed budget, increased funding for the Pentagon by $24 billion with a focus on countering China, improving facilities and infrastructure across the services, and advancing technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. The bill’s largest adds include an additional $2.5 billion to counter the China buildup; specifically, it includes funding for the Marine Corps Force Design 2030 efforts, accelerating INDO-PACOM missile tracking capabilities, funding for the Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii and Guam Defense System, and $100 million to establish the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve to “accelerate real-world demonstrations of innovative technologies.” The Marine Corps Force Design 2030 initiative is designed to make that fighting force more expeditionary to meet the increasing threats in the Indo-Pacific region.
Senate appropriators also provided various increases for artificial intelligence (AI), cyber and microelectronics capabilities which includes a $500 million program to increase adoption of AI at combatant commands. It would provide the ever-evolving Space Force with $17.9 billion for military personnel, operations, and acquisition accounts, which is a 16% increase over last year’s enacted budget. The fourth big focus area in the SAC’s bill is $1.6 billion of additional funding for infrastructure and facilities sustainment across the services. The Navy’s shipyard revitalization program, for example, would see its $280 million request increased by $480 million total, split as $180 million for facility renovations and $300 million for additional equipment.
The majority of the Pentagon’s topline is included in the Senate’s new bill, which provides the military with $725 billion. However, Senate appropriators funded military construction and Veterans’ Affairs in a separate bill that includes roughly $10 billion. That brings the Senate’s total Pentagon topline to around $735 billion, including $24 billion in additional funding. The three other congressional committees overseeing the Pentagon’s budgets have made similar proposals coming in around a $740 billion topline. Some of the major cuts include eliminating $3.3 billion that would have gone to the Afghan Security Forces Fund, an obvious result of the U.S. withdrawal from the country and subsequent collapse of the Afghan government’s army.
By Ramona Lessen, Executive Director, Total Spectrum
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing Update on US-Russia Policy
Tuesday, December 7, 2021; 2:30 p.m.
To view a livestream of the hearing please click here.
Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman
Senator Jim Risch (R-ID), Ranking Member
The Honorable Victoria Nuland
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Monday, December 6
- 6 p.m. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S.-Russia policy. Closed
Tuesday, December 7
- 9:30 a.m. House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security hearing – Examining the Worldwide Threat of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
- 10 a.m. Senate Banking Committee hearing on two inspector general nominations.
- 10 a.m. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on closing the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
- 10 a.m. Senate Rules Committee hearing on oversight of the U.S. Capitol Police following the Jan. 6 riot.
- 1 p.m. House Rules Committee markup of H.R. 5314, Protecting Our Democracy Act.
- 2:30 p.m. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on US-Russia Policy.
Wednesday, December 8
- 10 a.m. House Judiciary Committee markupof five bills, including one that would require the FBI to report metrics about cybercrime and other “cyber-enabled illegal activity.”
- 10 a.m. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on S. 2372 , the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act.
- 10 a.m. House Financial Services Committee hearing on digital assets and the future of finance.
- 10 a.m. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee: Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia and Nonproliferation hearing – Biosecurity for the Future: Strengthening Deterrence and Detection.
- 10 a.m. House Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hearing – Forfeiting our Rights: The Urgent Need for Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform.
- 11 a.m. House Select Economic Disparity Committee hearing on supporting family caregiving.
- 2:30 p.m. Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on violence against women in Native communities.
- 2:30 p.m. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the future of U.S. policy on Taiwan.
- 3 p.m. Senate Veteran’ Affairs Committee hearing on the nomination of Kurt DelBene to be an assistant secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Thursday, Dec. 9
- 9 a.m. Senate Judiciary Committee markup of a bill to modernize court records
- 9:30 a.m. Senate Aging Committee hearing on financial literacy, focusing on older Americans and people with disabilities.
- 10 a.m. Senate Banking Affairs Committee hearing on disaster recovery assistance, focusing on the authorization of the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program.
- 10 a.m. House Select Economic Disparity Committee roundtable on Serving Unbanked and Underbanked Americans.
- 10 a.m. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism hearing – What’s Next for Libya? The Path to Peace.
- 10:15 a.m. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on federal efforts to address PFAS contamination.
- 10:30 a.m. House Oversight Committee hearing on drug prices and reform.
- 1:30 p.m. House Climate Crisis Committee hearing on climate investments to help families and businesses.
- 10 a.m. House Science Committee virtual markup of three bills, including a bill that seeks to support research on privacy-enhancing technologies.
- 1 p.m. House Foreign Affairs Committee markup of five bills, including H.R. 5665, which would instruct the State Department to monitor and fight against Islamophobia.