John M. Donnelly

Raiding military budget for wall would contradict previous Trump administration statements
Mulvaney complained last year of key military projects being underfunded

If President Donald Trump uses emergency powers to tap the military’s construction budget to bankroll a border wall, it would contradict his administration’s previous statements that the so-called milcon programs need more money, not less.

While the president signed into law last September legislation that allocated about $8.1 billion for military construction projects in fiscal 2019, that figure was nearly $800 million less than Trump proposed. And it was almost $1.5 billion less than the military services had wanted at that time.

Analysis: Get Used to Trump Tumult in U.S. National Security
Mattis resignation and troop withdrawals only the beginning

Updated 12/26/18 | This week was a stormy one for American national security. But it is likely to be only a taste of things to come.

The disclosure that President Donald Trump plans to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Syria and possibly also Afghanistan, followed by Defense Secretary James Mattis’ resignation in protest of those moves and more, jangled nerves in Washington.

House Panel Plans Bipartisan Push Against Trump on Syria
Mac Thornberry, Adam Smith on same page as leaders of Armed Services

Republicans and Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee say they are launching an unusual bipartisan campaign to push back against President Donald Trump’s proposed withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Syria.

Texas Republican Mac Thornberry, the committee’s chairman, and Washington Democrat Adam Smith, the ranking member and likely the new chairman in the next Congress, said in separate interviews Thursday that they will join forces to try to slow or shape, if not stop, the president’s move. It was their first public comments on the issue.

Arizona Republican Defies Whole House on Plea for Jailed Journalists
Andy Biggs has voted consistently on issues concerning international jurisdictions

Fully 394 members of the House voted Thursday for a resolution calling for the release from jail of two Reuters reporters imprisoned in Myanmar on charges that are widely viewed as fraudulent.

One member of Congress voted against it.

Trump Fumbled Claim of Capturing 10 Terrorists
The actual statistic is more nuanced than the president suggested

There is no public evidence to substantiate President Donald Trump’s claim on Tuesday, in the context of a discussion of security at the southern border, that 10 terrorists have been caught recently trying to enter the United States.

Trump’s comments sparked a small tempest on social media, but a recent State Department report showed no terrorist threat on the Mexico border, and Trump’s own administration effectively acknowledges the president may have mischaracterized the statistic.

Senate Defies Trump on Saudi Arabia, Advances Yemen Measure
Vote comes after veto threat by White House

In a rebuke to the White House, the Senate cast a procedural vote Wednesday to advance a resolution that would cut off most U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia’s war operations in Yemen.

The Senate voted 63-37 to agree to a motion to discharge the Foreign Relations Committee from considering the measure, which authorizes the chamber to begin mulling the resolution, a debate that is likely to occur next week.

These Planes Will Fight Fires, If You Can Wait 10 Years
Stalled Air Force conversions show how a seemingly straightforward job can take years in the arcane federal acquisition system

In 2013, Congress ordered the Air Force to convert seven Coast Guard transport planes into firefighting tanker aircraft, but now the first of the planes may not be ready to fight fires for several more years, nearly a decade after the initial plan was launched. 

The story of the seven planes illustrates how a seemingly straightforward job can take years in the arcane federal acquisition system, even when the equipment is a matter of life and death. 

Coast Guard Bill Returns ‘Delta Queen’ Steamboat to Spotlight
Senate reauthorization measure would exempt boat from safety regulations

Senate votes this week will help determine whether a 91-year-old wooden steamboat can be revived as an overnight river cruise ship — even though the Department of Homeland Security calls that prospect an “unacceptable” fire risk.

A provision buried deep in a recently modified version of the Senate’s Coast Guard authorization bill would exempt the Delta Queen paddle wheel boat from federal law and Coast Guard regulations that require vessels with overnight accommodations for 50 or more passengers to be made of fireproof materials. The boat’s owner envisions the vessel as a Mississippi River cruise vessel for up to 174 passengers.

Jack Reed Talks Tough on Saudi Arabia Arms Sales
Key Dem on Khashoggi killing: ‘This outrageous act can’t be followed by a business-as-usual arms deal’

The U.S. military should stop refueling Saudi Arabian aircraft fighting in Yemen and Congress should not approve any new offensive arms sales to Riyadh, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee told reporters Wednesday.

Jack Reed of Rhode Island also told a Defense Writers Group breakfast that a multinational, independent criminal probe should be launched to investigate the disappearance and alleged murder earlier this month of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Hill Sends Big Chunk of Next Year’s Money to Trump, Minus His Border Wall
All eyes were elsewhere as House passed $855B measure for fiscal 2019

As President Donald Trump gave a stem-winding press conference Wednesday on refusing to meet with the Canadian prime minister, getting laughed at by the United Nations, and what will happen to his embattled Supreme Court nominee, the House was passing legislation.

The chamber voted, 361-61, in favor of a measure that would allocate most of the fiscal 2019 appropriations that Congress controls, along with a continuing resolution to keep much of the rest of the government operating into December.

Obscure Pentagon Fund Nets $2B, Sets Pork Senses Tingling
Program prompts complaints of ‘jurassic pork’ as some see earmarks by another name

The Pentagon will soon have received about $2.3 billion in the last nine years — money the military never requested — for a special fund intended to help replace earmarks after Congress banned them, our analysis shows.

Buried deep inside the $674.4 billion Defense spending measure for fiscal 2019 that the Senate is expected to vote on this week is a chart with one line showing a $250 million appropriation for the Defense Rapid Innovation Fund, the latest installment of sizable funding for a largely unknown program that quietly disburses scores of contracts every year.

Members Find Billions Beneath Pentagon Couch Cushions
Vague explanations offered for cuts: ‘historical unobligated balances’ and ‘revised estimate’

The authors of a new Defense spending conference report ran a victory lap last week to tout the billions of dollars they added to the U.S. military budget, but they hardly mentioned the cuts they had to make to pull that off.

Members generally prefer to tout the “winners” in their bills, not so much the “losers.” That habit can obscure the hard work appropriators and their staffs do to wring savings out of the Pentagon and intelligence agency budgets, even when the total funding is an epic $674.4 billion, as it will be in fiscal 2019. 

Spending Splurge
CQ Budget Podcast, Episode 78

House and Senate lawmakers made a deal to give the Pentagon a huge spending boost and defy President Donald Trump's call to cut various health, education and labor programs. CQ Defense reporter John M. Donnelly and Health reporter Andrew Siddons unpack the mammoth spending package now making its way through Congress.

Show Notes:

Pentagon Still Faces Possible CR, Even Government Shutdown
Congress may be moving faster than usual this year on spending bills, but no one should be celebrating yet

The Defense Department stands a 50-50 chance of operating under the constraints of a continuing resolution for at least the first couple months of fiscal 2019 and quite possibly beyond, a number of Washington insiders predict.

What’s more, analysts and lobbyists say, one or more government shutdowns are not out of the question.

Pentagon Will Miss John McCain, Its Friend and Foe
Arizona Republican brought unique background to oversight role

ANALYSIS | To the Pentagon, its contractors and allies on the congressional defense committees — the so-called iron triangle — John McCain could be either the U.S. military’s strongest proponent or its harshest critic.

It is clear to the members of the triangle that they will miss the friend they had in the hawkish McCain. They may not fully appreciate, however, how much they will miss the enemy, too.

Brennan Fracas Could Rip Through Senate’s Defense Spending Debate
Security clearances, abortion among amendment topics floated

The Senate is ready to start voting on amendments to the fiscal 2019 Defense spending bill, possibly including several that could stir spirited debate.

Senators have only agreed so far to vote on two relatively uncontroversial amendments to the the two-bill package that includes both the $675 billion Defense bill and the $179.3 billion Labor-HHS-Education measure. Those first two votes are scheduled for Monday evening.

Space Force Could Be Compromised From the Get-Go, Watchdog Warns
Malicious actors could take advantage of Air Force’s laxity, according to report

The Air Force is not adequately monitoring the pedigree of parts that go into critical space systems, and they are consequently at risk of being compromised by America’s enemies, according to a Pentagon inspector general report released Thursday.

It was the second of four audits that Congress has ordered on the subject, and the results so far indicate a systemic failure to safeguard what goes into U.S. weapons and satellites.

GOP Congress Tries to Rein In Trump on Foreign Policy
From the Koreas to Russia, president’s own party works to pre-empt him on multiple fronts

The Republican-led Congress is increasingly writing and occasionally passing legislation to prevent President Donald Trump from taking what members believe would be ill-advised actions abroad.

The bills are few in number so far, and mostly subtle in effect. But they show how even members of Trump’s own party are restive about the commander in chief’s intentions and want to pre-empt him on multiple fronts.

A GOP Congress Tries to Limit Its Republican President on Foreign Policy: Podcast
CQ on Congress, Episode 114

Lawmakers seem to be finally feeling their checks-and-balances oats. Members of both the House and Senate, from both parties, have begun passing legislation that could curb the foreign policy impulses of this impulsive president.  ...
NDAA Races Through Congress at Historic Pace
Only twice in the last 33 years has the defense authorization wrapped before Oct. 1

Advancing a defense authorization bill was as painless this year as it has been in decades, according to the people who wrote the measure.

The House adopted the fiscal 2019 NDAA conference report in a lopsided 359-54 vote on Thursday just before that chamber’s members left town for the August recess.