Keith’s Congressional Corner

November 20, 2018

November 20, 2018

Keith’s Congressional Corner


“All politics is local.”
– Rep. Tip O’Neill (D-MA), Former Speaker of the House

Finally, the elections are over. A record 97 million voters cast their ballots. Divided government returns to DC as the Democrats take over the House—for the first time since 2010—in the new 116th Congress, 1st Session.

The Democrats gained at least 37 House seats when they needed only 23 seats to reclaim the majority. Six seats remain undecided as recounts and runoffs take place.

In the Senate, the Republicans won two additional seats and will retain control of the upper chamber. The next freshman class will include at least 15 legislators who served in the military. It will also include a record number of women, with more than 124 winning elections.

So, the lame duck session of the 115th Congress is upon us…

Will partisan gridlock next year return? Will they meet the bar they set this year getting Defense, military construction and Veterans appropriations completed by the beginning of the fiscal year (FY)?

“If con is the opposite of pro, then isn’t Congress the opposite of progress?”
– Jon Stewart, comedian

If there is a window of opportunity for bipartisan agreement, it is most likely in the first half of 2019 before presidential campaigning starts again. Infrastructure spending ($200 million proposed by the Administration; $1 trillion proposed by the Democrats) and less expensive prescription drugs may prove mutual ground ripe for compromise. Immigration and investigations, sources of conflict, will likely be the focus.

Early next year, the House and Senate will have to resolve differences on spending caps for defense and non-defense federal agencies in FY 2020.

“During the 115th Congress, it has been an honor to serve as the ranking member of the House Committee on Armed Services and represent the Democratic caucus on national security matters. As we begin to organize for the 116th Congress, I am asking for your support to serve our caucus as chairman of the Committee on Armed Services.”
– Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Ranking Member, House Armed Services Committee

While we’ll know more when the 116th Congress forms in early January, the Armed Services Committees are typically bipartisan. On the House side, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) is expected to take control. He has promised “vigorous oversight” of the Trump administration, has raised concerns about increased federal deficits after last year’s tax cuts and believes in parity for non-defense spending. He has questioned the military’s role in the civil wars in Yemen and Syria and has stood against recapitalization of the nuclear triad and so-called “low-yield” nukes. The Air Force’s Long Range Stand-Off weapon and Ground Based Strategic Deterrent to replace the Minuteman III ICBMs will face headwinds.

On the Senate side, the Armed Services Committee should also remain bipartisan and under the direction of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). Several committee members lost their elections and will be replaced.

In my future updates, we’ll look closer next fiscal year’s (FY) 2020 budget. Lawmakers will have to address the scheduled return of sequestration in FY 2020 under the Budget Control Act (BCA). Under current law, the defense spending cap is expected to be only $576 billion—while the DOD is currently working defense budgets for $700 billion and $733 billion. Recently, President Trump directed the federal departments and agencies to plan for a five percent budget cut next year. For Defense, it would mean an approximate two percent cut to $700 billion—matching the FY 2018 budget level.

With a proposed cut of $33 billion, DOD has promised no “salami slicing,” however, they will have to make difficult cuts or institute delays to modernization and recapitalization. The Air Force has too many old programs that need to be modernized and just this year finalized contracts for new T-X trainer and UH-1N helicopter replacement. They are already modernizing the fleet with new F-35 fighters, KC-46A refueling tankers, and new GPS satellites.

They need a lay-away plan…

Air Force Highlights

“We have been in continuous combat for more than 25 years. No Air Force has ever done that, and we have asked our people to endure more than any group of airmen ever have. And you see some of the strain of that on our retention and readiness.”
– Gen. Mike “Mobile” Holmes, Commander, Air Combat Command

SECAF: Air Force on Its Way to Meeting Readiness Goal | 15 Nov 2018 | by Brian Everstine

The Air Force is making progress hiking mission capable rates for frontline fighters to a goal of 80 percent – largely on the backs of maintainers.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ordered the Air Force and Navy in September to increase mission capable rates to 80 percent by the end of Fiscal 2019. The mission capable rate for F-22s at the time were under 50 percent, and not much higher for F-35s. Read more.

Creation of Space Force will carry price tag in the ‘single-digit’ billions, top Pentagon official says | 14 Nov 2018 | by Paul Sonne

The cost to create President Trump’s Space Force could be lower than $5 billion and certainly will be in the single-digit billions, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said at a briefing Thursday, pushing back against Air Force estimates that put the price tag at $13 billion or more. Read more.

Pentagon Began Clampdown on Senior Leaders’ Public Speaking Months Ago, Memos Reveal | 14 Nov 2018 | by Kevin Baron

DOD says it’s to save money and time. Critics say it’s to avoid conflict with the president.

Pentagon leaders nine months ago ordered a sharp clampdown on public appearances by senior U.S. military leaders and senior civilian Trump administration appointees, limits that have kept them largely out of sight — and out of trouble with President Trump.

The new rule: only one senior military leader and one civilian leader are allowed to appear at each “outside” non-government event, per day. Leaders must coordinate their appearances through a central DOD personnel management office and must seek waivers to break the one-per-day rule. Read more.

Air Force vice chief says space procurement is on the right path | 14 Nov 2018 | by Sandra Erwin

Air Force buyers of space systems are cutting red tape and removing layers of oversight to expedite programs, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Stephen Wilson said on Wednesday.

Wilson said the reorganization of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center and the establishment of a rapid procurement office for space are just the initial steps in a continuing effort to get “better and faster,” he said in a Q&A session at an Air Force Association breakfast meeting. Read more.

Deadly Air Force Training Jet Crash Was the Fifth in Just One | 14 Nov 2018 | by Kyle Mizokami

A U.S. Air Force training jet crashed last night, killing one pilot an injuring a second. The incident is the fifth such crash of the T-38 Talon jet trainer in just one year. Read more.

Lockheed gets $6B downpayment to start F-35 block buy | 14 Nov 2018 | by Valerie Insinna

In order to drive costs down, the F-35 joint program office has advocated grouping together international orders — and possibly the U.S. services later down the road — in order to allow prime contractor Lockheed Martin and its suppliers more time and resources to make investments.

The contacting action will help fund a total of 255 jets, including: 64 F-35As for the U.S. Air Force in LRIP 12. Read more.

[Editor’s Note: Having Congress deliver stable, predictable—and sufficient—budgets at the start of the fiscal year enables the warfighters to receive the needed tools earlier and for taxpayers to realize savings.]

What Democrats Winning the House Means for Federal Employees | 6 Nov 2018 | by Erik Katz

Democrats on Tuesday won dozens of House seats across the country and will control the lower chamber in the next Congress, a result that promises a big impact on the jobs and compensation for federal employees. Read more.

Quotes to Note

  • “The Secretary of Defense has asked us to get the readiness of the F-16, the F-22, and the F-35 above 80 percent by the end of this year.”
    – Gen. Stephen “Seve” Wilson, Vice Chief of Staff, at AFA Breakfast

  • “We are going to have the Air Force and the space force. Separate but equal.”
    – President Donald Trump

  • “As our country continues to face great challenges, I am committed to fighting for the national security principles and goals of the Democratic caucus.”
    – Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Ranking Member, House Armed Services Committee

  • “Specifically, we must look to eliminate inefficiency and waste at the DOD; boost oversight of sensitive military operations and ensure that the military works to avoid civilian casualties; protect our environmental laws nationwide; advance green technology in defense; take substantial steps to reduce America’s overreliance on nuclear weapons; and promote greater transparency in national security matters.”
    – Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), Ranking Member, House Armed Services Committee

  • “The key issue is sequestration. We have priorities. We have to have money for them. And that’s where the battle will be.”
    – Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), Ranking Member, Senate Armed Services Committee

  • “While many things have changed over time, one thing can be certain regardless of the war, every warrior who fought for our nation deserves to be remembered. We are forever indebted to the courageous Marines, soldiers, sailors, Airmen and coastguardsmen who have defended this country generation after generation. Many of these patriots gave the ultimate sacrifice, one that can never truly be repaid. These incredible Americans fought day and night all across the world. They have shed blood, sweat, and tears on the shores of Normandy, the mountains of Afghanistan, the jungles of Vietnam and beyond. Our nation’s men and women in uniform have stood up and answered the call to serve, exemplifying true selflessness.”
    – Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Your Air Force – Did You Know?

On November 2, Air Force Academy cadets beat their West Point counterparts at the Capture the Flag Cyber Competition, “the first head-to-head” clash of the service academies’ cyber titans.

Nine missions will return to Tyndall AFB, Fla., in the near future as the base begins to return to a sense of normalcy following the catastrophic damage of Hurricane Michael. These missions include the 601st Air Operations Center and non-flying portions of F-22 training. All but 500 airmen from Tyndall will return to the Florida Panhandle within about three months, though the 95th Fighter Squadron—the only operational F-22 squadron assigned to the base—will be dispersed to other F-22 bases. Read the full story by Brian Everstine.

Key Dates to Watch


  • Oct 1 – FY 2019 Began


If you have questions, please contact:

Keith Zuegel, (Ret.), USAF
Senior Director, Government Relations
Air Force Association (AFA)