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Rep. Thornberry Wins HASC Chair; Reform A’Coming?

Posted by Colin Clark on

Rep. Mac Thornberry at work.

Rep. Mac Thornberry at work.

WASHINGTON: The House Armed Services Committee will be led through the shoals of sequestration, military pay, weapons costs and a volatile world by a reform-minded and dynamic legislator.

I’ve covered Rep. Mac Thornberry since before the turn of the century (that hurt) and have always found compelling his willingness to delve beneath the surface of what the military wants to tell him and to create truly useful legislation — something far too few of his HASC colleagues can say.

Perhaps his most famous legislative vision was something I reported on at my old employer Defense News when Thornberry spotted the need for a more rational approach to what we now know as homeland security.

Here’s the summary description from his congressional website of what happened: “Six months before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Mac introduced a bill to create a new Department of Homeland Security, which formed the basis of legislation signed into law by President Bush 20 months later.”

Thornberry also played a driving role in creating the experiment known as Joint Forces Command (since disbanded). He wanted a more fundamental reordering of the military but could not gain the support of enough colleagues for major changes to how the military was organized. He has long spoken of the need for a new Goldwater-Nichols type bill. We’ll have to see if that resurfaces. There doesn’t seem to be much discussion of this yet on Capitol Hill, but there’s persistent discussion of the need for a reformed military among the upper-middle reaches of the four services. This is an issue that won’t be publicly addressed without leadership and Thornberry could provide that in spades.

The Texas Republican is an effective partisan who can needle his Democratic colleagues without alienating them. One of the things to watch is just how deftly the new HASC chair will be able to muster his GOP colleagues. His first big tests will be fundamental reform of how the Pentagon buys its weapons and services — something he has been working on for almost a year — and sequestration.

While HASC GOP members may want to lift the budget caps on the Defense Department, it’s clear that outgoing chairman Rep. Buck McKeon couldn’t muster the votes to convince the GOP leadership it was a good idea. Can Thornberry help drive a deal similar to last year’s Ryan-Murray mini-deal?

In other House news, House Speaker John Boehner today picked Rep. Devin Nunes of California to lead the House Intelligence Committee in the next Congress. He will replace the retiring Mike Rogers. It will be very interesting to see whether Nunes can craft a relationship with the HPSCI’s top Democrat anything like as close and effective as Rogers has had with Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger.

What do you think?