If federal spending has a fast lane, it will run through Room SR-222 of the Russell Senate Office Building the rest of this week.
In this chamber, in closed session, the Senate Armed Services Committee will work today, and possibly through Friday, on the National Defense Authorization Act.
The so-called “markup” will direct military spending for the 2015 fiscal year, a half-trillion dollars, give or take.
“This is the first real markup after the sequestration experience where the committee is trying to look at a number we won’t exceed,” Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.
Mr. Blunt, a Republican, and his Missouri Senate colleague, Democrat Claire McCaskill, sit on the Armed Services panel, a nod to the importance of this spending, on military bases and through contractors, in their home state.
It also speaks, on a broader plain, to the gravity of the decision-making in a post-9/11 but budget-conscious Congress.
“We have passed this authorization bill every year for 50 years,” said Ms. McCaskill in a separate conference call Tuesday. “It is one area we have stubbornly held onto bipartisanship in the Senate, which is important for the strength of our military and the security of our country.”
Both senators have elements of the authorization they will watch closely. Mr. Blunt said he wants to ensure money remains intact for military compensation, health care issues and equipment improvements.
In addition, he wants to look at an unfunded needs report, which includes items not in the budget but wished for by the service branches.
“When the House marked up their bill, they had a spirited debate about whether some of those unfunded needs were more important than the needs that the Defense Department had asked for and made some changes,” Mr. Blunt said.
Ms. McCaskill said she had amendments prepared that focus on improvements of military family benefits under Tri-Care and broadened capacity for audit interviews of the employees of contractors. The Democrat also hopes to modify and limit money being spent on infrastructure in Afghanistan.
Some amendments in committee get decided by close votes. “But the vast majority of amendments are ones that will probably be agreed to, that we’ll keep working it back and forth across the aisle until we come up with a version of the amendment that people are comfortable with,” she said.
Mr. Blunt said he hopes the reauthorization creates an environment where more than one company vies for military contracts.
“If you have competitors, the bidding process itself continues to establish a real value rather than just what somebody was willing to ask for with a straight face as to what they thought the government should pay,” he said.
The House Armed Services Committee approved its version of NDAA on May 8. It passed on a vote of 61 to 0.