OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Obama ups the ante on defense cuts

“Instead of making tough choices to reduce the deficit, they’d rather protect tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military,” Obama said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who attacked Obama over sequestration when the president campaigned in Virginia earlier this month, will get a chance to quickly respond to Obama with his own address at the VFW convention Tuesday.

Obama’s comments Monday show that both sides are getting increasingly entrenched in their sequestration positions ahead of the election and aren’t likely to budge an inch before November.

The statements from both parties over sequestration also show how the fight over military spending has been overtaken by a larger fight about taxes and the deficit, just as it did last year during the summer debt-limit negotiations.

Both Democrats and Republicans largely think the sequestration cuts to both defense and domestic spending are a bad idea, but they aren’t making any moves to fix them due to the larger ideological disagreements over taxes.

Despite calls from defense-minded lawmakers, those stances don’t appear likely to shift until after the election. 

McKeon responds on defense cuts: Romney may respond to Obama’s sequestration comments Tuesday, but House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) was quickly out with a statement blasting the president for making “ultimatums from the campaign trail.”

McKeon, who has accused Obama of being responsible for the defense cuts in sequestration, said Obama “owes our troops his best efforts to defuse the cuts” and said he was using the troops for “leverage.”

“House Republicans have set forth a balanced plan that pays for the first year of automatic cuts to both defense and non-defense sectors by addressing the true drivers of our debt; mandatory spending,” McKeon said. “The President and Senator Reid are the only parties who still refuse to come to the table. The president has a choice in how he deals with this crisis.  He can begin to treat our troops as heroes, or he can continue to use them as leverage." 

Obama announces ‘reverse boot camp’: Obama also had policy announcements in his VFW speech Monday, announcing a new initiative to overhaul the military’s program for service members transitioning to civilian life. Calling it a “reverse boot camp,” Obama said the new program that will replace the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) would provide more personal assistance to help veterans plan their post-military careers. The new program, renamed Transition GPS, will become mandatory and has been lengthened to at least five days from three.

Republicans caution over ‘one-size fits all’: The Republican chairmen of the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committees gave mild praise at the president’s announcement, while reminding that it was done after Congress passed a law cautioning against a “one-size fits all approach to TAP. 

“TAP has long been in need of reform, and these steps by the administration to implement the law under the VOW to Hire Heroes Act will begin to help transitioning servicemembers almost immediately,” McKeon (R-Calif.) and Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said in a statement. The two chairmen will get a chance to question Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki at a joint hearing Wednesday, where the two secretaries will testify on transitioning from military to civilian life.

‘Stolen valor’ database gets green light: Obama also announced a new policy Monday that Congress and military groups have long clamored for: a database of military honors to try to weed out frauds. Last month, the Supreme Court struck down the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a crime to lie about receiving military medals, saying the law violated the First Amendment.

While there are several efforts in Congress to rewrite the law so it is deemed constitutional, advocates say the database will be a big help in the meantime to root out those who are lying about military honors.

“It may no longer be a crime for con artists to pass themselves off as heroes, but one thing is certain — it is contemptible,” Obama said at the VFW speech. “So this week, we will launch a new website, a living memorial, so the American people can see who’s been awarded our nation’s highest honors. Because no American hero should ever have their valor stolen.”

Setting fire for time off?: While many people have gone to extremes to clock out of work early, New Hampshire native Casey Fury stands alone in such efforts. The 24-year old civilian employee at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine has been charged with two counts of arson after he started two fires aboard a Navy nuclear attack submarine stationed at the shipyard for repairs. 

Naval investigators claim Fury, who also suffers from clinical anxiety and depression, started a fire aboard the USS Miami on May 23 and again on June 16. The fires ended up causing nearly $400 million in damage to the submarine. Fury initially denied any knowledge about the fires, but later admitted his involvement to service investigators after failing a polygraph test, according to a federal affidavit. 

Fury, who is facing a life sentence if found guilty of the arson charges, said he set both fires so he could get out of work early. 

Afghan hospital hearing, part 2: Less than a month after House defense lawmakers grilled DOD officials over allegations of rampant corruption and abuse at a U.S.-run Afghan military hospital, members of the House Oversight national security subcommittee will get their turn. Several current and former military officials will appear before the subcommittee to explain the department's actions regarding the U.S.-run military hospital.

The hearing should spark some fireworks. Inquiries subpanel Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) sent to DOD about a possible cover-up of abuses at the hospital for political gains ignited congressional interest in the matter. The Utah Republican wrote a letter in June to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, publicly accusing Pentagon officials of delaying a military investigation into the hospital until after the 2010 midterm elections to protect Obama from bad publicity. 

In Case You Missed It:

— Obama: Syria will be ‘accountable’ for chemical weapons

— Syria threatens to use chemical weapons on foreigners

— Pentagon says Iraq can handle al Qaeda

— Surge withdrawal in Afghanistan halfway done

Please send tips and comments to Jeremy Herb, jherb@thehill.com, and Carlo Muñoz, cmunoz@thehill.com.

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

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