New Congress: Army Up? (Updated Again)

The Democrats weren't the only winners in last night's elections. The Army and the Marines are looking like they just came out on top, too.meekiraq_picture.jpgThere's a long-standing cliche that, when it comes to military spending, "the Republicans are mostly interested in weapons systems. The Democrats are interested in people," as Gen. Wes Clark told a New Hampshire public radio show, back when he was running for President.You can buy the old saw, or not. But last night was a major power boost for two lifetime buddies of the people-heavy services. Ike Skelton, who's in line to become the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has been close with the Army's leadership for decades. Ditto possible House Majority Leader John Murtha. Both were big Don Rumsfeld haters.Now, for months, the SecDef's office and the Army have been locked in a cage match over the service's budget. That might change, with Rummy being shoved out. But if it continues, who do you think Skelton and Murtha are going to back?Phil Carter says to look out for five items as Skelton, Murtha, and Co. move into the big offices on Capitol Hill:

1) An increase in the military's end strength;2) Some kind of restriction on multiple reserve callups or deployments;3) Funding for reset of equipment to peacetime readiness levels;4) Increased pay, benefits, and incentives tied to recruiting and retention; and5) Policies geared towards making the military more well-rounded, i.e.incentives to start Arabic and Chinese language programs.
Notice he didn't mention anything about technology programs. That's because, despite the love for the Army, big weapons systems -- like the $300 billion Future Combat Systems effort -- are going to get a whole lot more scrutiny.Skelton is calling for "re-creating an Armed Services investigation and oversight subcommittee, which Republicans did away with in 1995," according to Aviation Week.But Skelton could be the least of industry's problems. "I'll tell you the two words that freak then [contractors] out the most," one senior Congressional aide told me a few weeks back, "Chairman Waxman."That's Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), in line to head the wide-ranging House Government Reform Committee. He's a master of the subpoena. And, Av Week notes, he "has complained about lax supervision under the Republicans and introduced contracting reform legislation in September that would require federal agencies to use at least 1% of their procurement budgets for contract oversight. The bill also requires Congressional hearings to investigate credible evidence of waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement."If the Republicans hold on to the Senate, things could get even more heated. John McCain likely takes over the Armed Services Committee. He is one of the few people in Congress who truly, truly cares about the Pentagon's out-of-control spending on weapons development. And there is no contractor that pisses him off more than Boeing -- the guys in charge of Future Combat.UPDATE 1:28 PM: The Navy, which is facing money questions of its own, potentially gets two new, high-profile champions. Retired Admiral Joe Sestak won a congressional seat last night in Pennsylvania. And if former Navy Secretary Jim Webb hangs on in Virginia -- and delivers the Senate to the Democrats, in the process -- he's instantly going to become one of the Dems' most influential voices on national security.UPDATE 4:56 PM: "Investigations into defense contracting and a re-examination of spending priorities could mean a shift in spending from hardware to troops," former Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, tells Defense News.
The Army, in particular, is under strain from the war in Iraq, and Democrats may push for permanent increases in the size of the Army and Marine Corps. That means spending more on personnel and the everyday equipment they need to fight.As a result, Democrats might try to trim spending on big-ticket weapons such as the F-22 stealth fighter, the Joint Strike Fighter and the Armys Future Combat Systems in order to pay for more ground forces, Turner said.
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