A key congressional Republican hopes to use a major defense bill to give the Pentagon more leverage in policy fights with President Obama’s White House aides, following complaints from past defense chiefs that the West Wing has tried to micromanage national security and military policy and ice the Defense Department and other agencies out of major decisions.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry plans to offer an amendment to the defense authorization bill to cap the size of the National Security Council, now headed by close Obama aide Susan E. Rice. The bill also could subject the council’s head to congressional confirmation in the future, The Washington Times has learned.
News of the amendment comes in the wake of sharp criticism from Mr. Obama’s former defense secretaries — Robert M. Gates, Leon E. Panetta and Chuck Hagel — that their access to and influence over the president were often stymied by an inner circle of less-experienced White House officials.
The move would have little effect on the remainder of Mr. Obama’s term but would be a clear sign of congressional unhappiness with the way the president has run his defense policy team and serve as a warning to future chief executives.
Four months ago, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, Arizona Republican, said dissatisfaction of the White House among those serving in uniform was at its highest level since Vietnam.
A key congressional aide said Mr. Thornberry’s amendment would require that Ms. Rice’s successors be confirmed by the Senate if the president allows the National Security Council staff to balloon past a cap set by Congress.
Another aide said Mr. Thornberry does not intend to introduce the proposal until the $610 billion defense spending bill makes to the House floor in coming weeks because other committees with jurisdiction would have to scrutinize the measure. The move on the National Security Council was first reported in The Washington Post over the weekend.
While there is some legal murkiness of whether the Armed Services Committee can demand structural changes to the council, the aide argued that Congress created it nearly 70 years ago during the Harry S. Truman administration.
“Of course, even the committee chairman cannot do something that is the jurisdiction of other committees, but any House member can offer any amendment, regardless of the issue, once the [national defense spending authorization] is on the floor,” the aide said.
The measure would be just a small part of a massive spending and policy blueprint for the Pentagon made public Monday. The draft bill would add billions of dollars to pay for more ships, jet fighters, helicopters and more, The Associated Press reported.
Mr. Thornberry’s blueprint shifts $18 billion from the account that finances ongoing war operations to prohibit further troop cuts and buy weapons the Pentagon didn’t include in its $583 billion request. To make up for the large shortfall in war spending, the next president will have to submit a supplemental budget to Congress early next year.
The blueprint rejects the Pentagon’s proposal to cut one of the Navy’s 10 carrier air wings. It also includes 11 additional F-35 stealth fighter jets, which cost roughly $100 million each, more Black Hawk and Apache helicopters, and troop-carrying V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, according to the AP.