OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Defense budget response both hostile and tepid

The Topline: President Obama's new defense budget is getting a rough reception on Capitol Hill, drawing strong opposition from GOP defense hawks and only tepid support from Democrats.

Republicans say the budget, which was previewed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday, endangers U.S. national security by reducing the size of the military during a time of growing threats.  

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“We live in an every increasingly dangerous world and this budget is out of touch with reality,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vowed to kill the defense budget request outright.

“We are going to kill it. Not let it happen,” he said, adding it was “ill-conceived, ill-designed, bad defense policy, detached from reality: I am running out of adjectives.”

The defense budget request would shrink the Army to between 440,000 and 450,000 troops, reduce operations for 11 Navy cruisers and cut the Air Force’s fleet of A-10 attack jets and U-2 spy planes. It would also cap military pay raises and reduce military benefits while calling for a new round of base closings. 

Democrats say they are reserving judgment on the budget proposal until they can review it in detail, but predicted changes will have to be made. 

“We have to go through those [proposals] very carefully,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. “There are some of those I accept, and some of those I don’t, but I’ll wait to take a look at the whole package.” 

A Democratic Virginia senator whose state has a large military and defense industrial presence went further, however.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he wished Hagel had waited until February 2015 for the recommendations of a Pentagon commission appointed to look at military pay and benefits. 

“I’m worried that our military and veterans are being asked to have commissaries and benefits to take a hit now when — to my mind, we still ought to be looking at a broader-based grand bargain of retirement reform and tax reform,” he said. 

Obama warns Karzai of troop withdrawal: President Obama warned Afghanistan's president on Tuesday that the U.S. is moving ahead with plans to remove all troops from that country by the end of the year. 

Because Karzai has “demonstrated he is unlikely to sign” the agreement, Obama is moving forward without him, the White House said.

“Should we have a BSA and a willing and committed partner in the Afghan government, a limited post-2014 mission focused on training, advising, and assisting Afghan forces and going after the remnants of core Al Qaeda could be in the interests of the United States and Afghanistan,” the statement said.

Obama delivered the message to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai in a Tuesday morning phone call. The last time they spoke via telephone or video conference was June of last year. 

McCain places hold on two Obama defense nominees: Sen. John McCain has placed a hold on two of President Obama's nominees for top Pentagon jobs, after he said they gave unsatisfactory answers during their confirmation hearings Tuesday.  

McCain (R-Ariz.) placed a hold on Bob Work, Obama's nominee for deputy defense secretary, after he said the littoral combat ship program he had overseen while serving as undersecretary of the Navy "is on solid ground and is meeting its cost targets." 

"You think it's normal?" McCain asked. "The cost overruns associated with this ship, the fact that we don't even know what the mission is ... this whole idea of moving different modules off and on. You disagree with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) statement at the cost overruns? This is normal?" 

McCain also placed a hold on Christine Wormuth, Obama's nominee for defense undersecretary for policy, after she repeatedly declined to say whether al Qaeda was receding or growing. 

The Arizona Republican said the holds were placed partly as a symbolic protest to rule changes by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that allow for nominees to skip committee confirmation and head straight to a Democratic-controlled Senate for a simple majority vote, referred to as the "nuclear option." 

"They can nominate any bozo they want, the way it is now. I mean, look at the ambassador nominees. People who have never been in the country are clueless who are now going to be made ambassadors," McCain said. 

"The nuclear option has deprived the minority in the United States Senate from the right to advise and consent. That's what happened," he said. "So now we will see less and less qualified people nominated by the President of the United States."  

Iran sanctions in veterans bill? Senate Republicans are trying to tie more Iranian sanctions to a veterans bill currently being considered.

An amendment by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) to the bill introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) would increase sanctions on Iran to deter the country’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons.

Sanders said he was open to hearing GOP ideas and voting on amendments as long as they were relevant to veterans issues.

“Let us not politicize this issue by bringing Iran or ObamaCare into this,” Sanders said Tuesday. “Let us focus on veterans issues. ... Let’s not bring in poison pills.”

Sanders’s nearly $23 billion bill would boost veterans' healthcare programs, give veterans in-state tuition rates at all schools across the country and provide advanced appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

—The Hill’s Ramsey Cox contributed to this article. 

 

In Case You Missed It:

—Senate moves to veterans bill

—Reid: War savings should be spent on veterans

—Inhofe: Defense strategy based on naïve worldview

—McCain: Pentagon cuts 'a serious mistake'

—White House retaliates: 3 Venezuelans expelled

 

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