OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senators balk at defense budget

Topline: Pentagon leaders debuted their $496 billion 2015 defense budget request on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, in which they ask lawmakers to agree to proposals they have rejected over the last two years.

The response at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the budget was expectedly frosty, from both sides of the aisle. 

ADVERTISEMENT
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) pushed back against a new round of base closings in 2017. 

“I certainly strongly disagree with another [base closure and realignment] round at this time, and I think for a couple of reasons that we really need answers to before we can go any further on this discussion,” she said.

After the hearing, Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) told the Hill he didn’t support another BRAC round either. 

Sens. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) both pushed back against a decision to retire the Air Force’s A-10 attack aircraft, questioning the wisdom of retiring it without an immediate replacement. 

“At Moody Air Force Base in my state, we're gonna take those airplanes out in '15 and '16, but yet we're not scheduled to even think about another tranche of F-35s being designated 'til about '22 or ’24,” Chambliss said. 

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) said she strongly disagreed with a decision that would inactivate an Air Force air lift wing at Fort Bragg. 

“I strongly disagree with this decision, and that would adversely affect the readiness of troops at Fort Bragg,” she said. 

Hagan also pushed back against reforms to military pay and benefits, such as a 1 percent pay raise cap, freezing pay for general and flag officers, reducing housing allowance growth, cutting commissary subsidies and increasing healthcare costs. 

“While I understand the significant fiscal challenges that the department faces, we just can't seek to balance the budget on the backs of our service members,” she said. 

But Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey defended the decisions, saying that if lawmakers tried to block any of the changes, the cuts would have to made elsewhere. 

Levin asked whether the Pentagon would have to find $31 billion elsewhere in the defense budget over the next five years if Congress rejected changes to military pay and benefits. 

“Unless the comptroller has any other opinion on this, it is true,” Hagel said. 

Lawmakers alarmed by alleged CIA spying on Congress: Senators said that reports that the CIA was spying on congressional computers raised serious problems — legal and constitutional — if they are true.

“I’m assuming that’s it’s not true, but if it is true, it should be World War III in terms of Congress standing up for itself against the CIA, ” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The Hill.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) confirmed the reports from McClatchy and The New York Times that the CIA inspector general was investigating the computer intrusion allegations.

McClatchy reported the CIA IG has asked the Justice Department to investigate.

The alleged spying has escalated a long running feud between the CIA and Democrats on the Intelligence Committee over the panel’s “torture” report that is critical of the CIA’s Bush-era interrogation techniques.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who is pushing for the report to be de-classified, said the CIA’s tactics amounted to intimidation.

“The CIA tried to intimidate the Intelligence Committee, plain and simply,” said Udall. “I’m going to keep fighting like hell to make sure the CIA never dodges congressional oversight again.”

Sex assault bills could get votes Thursday: The Senate could vote at last on Thursday on competing measures tackling military sexual assault.

A senior Democratic aide said that votes were likely on the bills from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) on Thursday, though the schedule had not been finalized.

The votes would be the culmination of a months-long fight between the two Democratic senators over Gillibrand’s controversial proposal to take sexual assault cases outside the chain of command.

Gillibrand has 55 senators publicly supporting her bill, but is still five short of the 60 she will need to overcome a filibuster. Gillibrand told reporters Wednesday she was hopeful she would get to 60.

McCaskill, however, said she was confident Gillibrand’s measure would be defeated.

“There are no undecideds,” she told The Hill.

US ups air defense in Poland: The United States is sending six more F-15 fighter jets and one KC-135 refueling aircraft to Poland, according to a defense official Wednesday. 

The move follows a NATO meeting on Tuesday called by Poland after Russian forces moved into the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea earlier this week. 

“This action comes at the request of our Baltic Allies and further demonstrates our commitment to NATO security,” a defense official said. 

The additional aircraft will augment part of an existing NATO mission to police Baltic airspace.

The U.S. and 14 other allies have provided aircraft on a rotational basis to the mission over the last 10 years. 

Currently, the U.S. contributes four F-15s. The addition will bring the U.S. contribution up to 10 during its rotation, which is January through April. 

“It is a time for all of us to stand with the Ukrainian people in support of their territorial integrity and sovereignty, and their right to have a government that fulfills the aspirations of its people,” Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing on the Pentagon’s 2015 budget. The additional aircraft will come from those currently based in the United Kingdom and will be deployed to Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania.

Hagel also announced during a Senate hearing on Wednesday that the U.S. was “stepping up joint training through our aviation detachment in Poland.”

 

In Case You Missed It:

—Levin on BRAC: Not going to happen

—China increasing military spending as US lowers it

—House-Senate divisions surface on Ukraine

—House to hold Ukraine vote Thursday

—Obama, Cameron: 'Grave concern' over Ukraine

 

Please send tips and comments to Jeremy Herb, jherb@thehill.com, and Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @DEFCONHill, @JHerbTheHill, @kristina_wong

You can sign up to receive this overnight update via email on The Hill’s homepage.