By Carlo Muñoz and Jeremy Herb - 10/01/12 09:59 PM EDT
The layoff battle highlights how much the across-the-board cuts have become part of the presidential race. Both President Obama and Mitt Romney see them as a winning issue — and each has attacked the other side for allowing the cuts to remain on the books. With Congress out of town until after the election, there’s no chance a solution will be hatched before the election, making sequestration a pure campaign issue for the next month.
Had Lockheed and other contractors issued tens of thousands of layoff notices four days before the election, it would have been to the detriment of the Obama campaign, although just how much impact the notices would have made is debatable. “I think Lockheed had become concerned that some people might interpret issuing WARN notices as favoring one presidential campaign over the other, and so they really were not very happy about being in this position,” Thompson told The Hill.
Safe passage: The White House has taken a lot of heat for its handling of U.S. diplomats in Libya, both before and after the deadly Sept. 11 attack that left four Americans dead, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. But with GOP lawmakers champing at the bit to hammer the Obama administration on the issue before the November elections, DOD and the State Department are looking to do something about it.
On Monday, DOD confirmed that it was looking at assigning elite Marine Corps units from the department's quick-reaction counterterrorism force to protect a team of FBI agents assigned to investigate the Benghazi strike. Talks are ongoing between Pentagon and State on the Marine Corps security detail, according to DOD spokesman Maj. Robert Firman.
The FBI team has reportedly been stuck in Tripoli since being sent to Libya, unable to enter Benghazi due to the dangerous security conditions there. If approved, the Marine Corps units from DOD's Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Teams (FAST) will escort the FBI agents to the ransacked U.S. Consulate in Benhgazi. The FAST units have been in Libya since Mid-September, conducting security operations for the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.
Assigning FAST units to the FBI team would provide some political cover for the White House after coming under intense fire by Congress for glaring security gaps at the Consulate prior to the attack.
"It's pretty obvious they did not have adequate security," House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said after a classified briefing on the Consulate attack by State, DOD and intelligence officials on Capitol Hill earlier this month.
VA’s HR chief resigns: The head of human resources at Veterans Affairs resigned Sunday ahead of an inspector general report issued Monday that found the agency spent $6.1 million on two week-long conferences. The report found that $762,000 was spent on “unauthorized, unnecessary, and/or wasteful expenses.”
The conferences could become a big problem for the VA on Capitol Hill, as news of the VA's $6.1 million tab comes just five months after the General Services Administration was blasted for a 2010 Las Vegas conference that cost $823,000. Lawmakers have already homed in on an expense of $49,000 to produce a parody video of Gen. George Patton.
Both Democrats and Republicans slammed the VA on Monday after the report was released and news came that Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration John Sepúlveda had resigned. The VA said in a statement on the resignation that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is planning to appoint senior agency officials “to review evidence of wrongdoing and to recommend appropriate administrative action.”
Group says military voting down: An advocacy group issued new figures today that show military voters are requesting far fewer ballots in some states compared to 2008. A study from the Military Voter Protection Project said requests for ballots in five states, including battlegrounds Florida, Virginia and Ohio, were off between 46-70 percent compared to 2008 for military and overseas voters. Those states were the ones that had provided the group with updated data 45 days before the election.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that the Pentagon must take part of the blame for the drop-off, citing a Defense Department inspector general report that found many military bases did not have functioning voter assistance offices mandated by a 2009 law. “DoD leaders must answer for this serious failure and do everything in their power to make this right for military voters and their family members,” Cornyn said in a statement.
Biden remembers: During his time in the Senate, Vice President Biden was better known for his political gaffes than waging political battles on the Senate floor. But one battle the former Delaware senator fought and won clearly sticks out as one of his greatest victories on Capitol Hill.
Biden, along with a handful of congressional lawmakers, were able to push though start-up funding for the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle, otherwise known as the MRAP. The combat truck, which was designed to withstand blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), was in high demand during the darkest days of the Iraq war.
Biden recalled that political fight during a DOD event Monday, commemorating the end of the vehicle's production. During his speech, Biden admitted that he also had his reservations about the anti-IED behemoth, particularly whether DOD could afford such a program in the face of rising costs inside the Pentagon. That was until a 2007 conversation with then Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conaway.
"My kids are getting killed," Conaway told Biden during their conversation about whether he should back the MRAP plan in the Senate. "That turned the tide," Biden, whose son Beau had served as an Army officer in Iraq, told the DOD audience on Monday. In the end, Congress approved the $24 billion to get the MRAP program up and running. With the war in Iraq over and the Afghan war coming to a close, Biden said the MRAP fight was one of his proudest moments on Capitol Hill.
"What do we get for [that] effort? We’ve got a whole lot of young women and men coming home in one piece," the vice president said.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
— House Dems seek answers on Air Force sex abuse scandal
— Taliban suicide strike kills three U.S. soldiers
— White House thwarts attempted cyber attack
— McCain hammers White House on Afghan war plan
— Obama sequester guidance is 'illegal,' says Graham
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