OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House passes repeal on pension cuts

The Topline: The House voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to repeal the $6 billion cut to military pensions, which was paid for by extending the sequester for mandatory Medicare spending for one year.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) quickly poured cold water on the House legislation, and Senate Democrats appeared to be following suit, leaving the fate of the pension cuts up in the air.

The House voted 326-90 Tuesday to repeal the reductions to the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for working age retirees, sending the bill to the Senate.

The House measure paid for the COLA repeal by extending the mandatory Medicare sequester caps by one year, to 2024. The caps were already extended two years in the December 2013 budget deal.

Reid, however, said that he was opposed to using that offset on the pension bill, although he had proposed the same offset on an extension of unemployment insurance benefits last month.

“That pay-for, remember, that was my unemployment compensation extension. They didn’t like that. But now they like it,” Reid said at a press conference Tuesday. “This shows the absurdity of the lack of common sense and reasoning that Republicans in Congress have.”

Democrats are pushing for the Senate to pass the bill this week from Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and other vulnerable 2014 Senate Democrats, which does not offset the restoration of the $6 billion cut.

They’re pressing Republicans to vote against repealing the cuts for military retirees in an election year.

“You’re either for veterans or you’re not. That’s the vote we’re taking,” Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) said at a press conference with Pryor and other Democrats. “At the end of the day, it’s a simple repeal. This is not complicated to do.”

But Republicans are opposed to that approach, arguing that the $6 billion can be easily offset and should be paid for so the deficit is not increased.

“Our view is that it ought to be fixed by paying for it and not adding to the deficit,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Republicans will get a vote on an amendment from Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) to offset the cost by preventing illegal immigrants from claiming the additional child tax credit, a measure that Democrats are opposed to.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that he didn’t know how he would vote on the bill without an offset.

“If we’re not going to pay for it then the budget deal is broken before the ink is dry,” Graham said. “I shouldn’t have to pick between doing justice to the military retirees and doing justice to future generations.”

The Senate is expected to take up amendment votes and a cloture vote on the Pryor bill later this week as it also moves to approve the clean debt-limit deal.

Top official says Karzai won’t sign security pact: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Tuesday that he does not think Afghan President Hamid Karzai will sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States. 

“Obviously, it takes two to sign this, and my own view on this, though it may not be company policy, is I don’t believe President Karzai will sign this,” Clapper said at a Senate Armed Services hearing.

Karzai has indicated he wouldn’t sign the bilateral security agreement until after the country’s presidential elections in April, and U.S. lawmakers have increasingly suggested that the Obama administration should just wait for Karzai’s successor to take power. 

Clapper is the first high-ranking Obama administration official to state publicly that Karzai is not likely to sign the security pact, which would establish a U.S. presence in Afghanistan after NATO hands off full control of security at the end of 2014.

Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) gave Clapper the opportunity to say whether or not the Obama administration would wait Karzai out, but he deferred, saying it was a policy decision up to the White House. 

Afghanistan to release 65 of 88 ‘dangerous’ detainees: U.S.-Afghan relations soured further after an Afghan Review Board announced it would release more detainees the U.S. has said are responsible for the death and injury of American troops. 

Last month, the board said it would release 37 of 88 detainees, and on Tuesday said it would now release 28 more, against strong U.S. objections. 

The U.S. swiftly condemned the decision in a statement, saying: "The release of 65 detainees is a legitimate force protection concern for the lives of both coalition troops and Afghan National Security Forces. ... The primary weapon of choice for these individuals is the improvised explosive device, widely recognized as the primary cause of civilian casualties in Afghanistan."

“Karzai, in my view, has singlehandedly destroyed this relationship,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. 

US military training for Iraq? The U.S. was "planning to step up training" for Iraqi forces as it battles a resurgent al Qaeda there, said Ambassador Anne Patterson, assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday. 

“We have also tried to step up training. We’re planning to step up training. We have an enormous foreign military sales and foreign military financing program with Iraq,” Patterson said. She did not specify what kind of training, but may have been referring to civilian contractors providing training on military equipment.  

Defense officials have also discussed sending U.S. special operations forces to Jordan to train Iraqi forces as they battle back al Qaeda in Fallujah. 

In addition, the U.S. has provided Iraq with hellfire missiles and surveillance drones, and has recently approved the sale of attack helicopters.

Patterson pushed back against notions the U.S. has lost credibility with allies in the region. 

“I think it’s very difficult to say that we’ve abandoned the Iraqis because I think we’re very intensively engaged there,” she said. 


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