OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House delayed on defense bill conference

The Senate approved its $631 billion defense authorization bill — which has passed for 51 straight years — last week, while the House passed its version in May.

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While the issue is not likely to cause long-term damage to the authorization’s bill’s prospects in conference, it’s one more headache to deal with before the wide-ranging Pentagon policy bill can be completed.

The postponement also delayed Democrats' plans for a measure before the conference. They planned to offer their motion to instruct the conferees in a second vote, and weren’t revealing what that motion would say before the House was set to gavel in Tuesday.

Levin, McCain see progress on conference: Before the delay was announced, both Levin and the committee’s ranking member, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said that progress was occurring on the conference, although neither was in a talkative mood when it came to issues that must be resolved.

Both Levin and McCain declined to discuss with reporters Tuesday which issues have been solved and which are outstanding. The formal conference committee will be able to begin when the House passes its motion to go to conference, but staff work has already been well under way on the defense bill’s conference report.

Levin said that the conference report could be finalized by the end of this week or first thing next week.

Things are going “very well,” Levin said. “I would say we’ve made a lot of progress,” he said.

McCain, meanwhile, said that things were “moving along.”

Graham: Don’t cut DOD with Iran threat looming: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) elaborated Tuesday on his position to support further cuts to the Pentagon, saying that he would consider additional cuts “if we had a little structural entitlement reform.”

But Graham added that additional cuts beyond those included in last year’s Budget Control Act should not be on the table with the Iran nuclear threat still an issue.

“I don’t think now’s the time to talk about reducing the Defense Department by $487 billion until we get the Iranian issue settled,” Graham told reporters. More defense cuts, of course, are being considered as lawmakers and the Obama administration continue to negotiate over the so-called “fiscal cliff” and the across-the-board sequester cuts loom.

Graham declined to talk about topline numbers he would accept, saying that the cuts had to be done in a way that the military’s capabilities remained. He would not, for instance, support cutting any aircraft carriers, but said that he might be willing to reduce land forces if that was doable.

Fair trade: Israel's famed Iron Dome took one step closer towards becoming part of the U.S. military arsenal on Tuesday, when Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren announced Jerusalem's intent to hand over the weapon's tech details to the American defense firms. 

House defense lawmakers have been gunning for the Iron Dome, an Israeli-built anti-missile system that has been critical in repelling short-range rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, since April. 

At that time, House members agreed to set aside $680 million to assist Israel in buying the weapon in its version of the fiscal 2013 defense spending bill. But House defense legislators included a provision requesting Israel hand over the rights to the missile defense system. 

Oren's comments on Tuesday indicate that Jerusalem might be willing to make that deal. 

In March alone, the three Iron Dome systems deployed in southern Israel successfully intercepted 80 percent of the 300 rockets and mortars fired into the country from Gaza, Defense Department spokesman George Little said on March 27. 

Should U.S. defense firms begin cranking out American-made Iron Domes, the system could replace the Raytheon-built Patriot missile defense system as the top anti-missile weapon in the Pentagon's arsenal. 

Man up: The message to Congress and the White House from Sen. Kelly Ayotte on the sequestration and the looming "fiscal cliff" was clear: Man up. 

Ayotte had some tough words for her congressional colleagues and administration officials struggling to come up with a politically viable solution to the $500 billion in defense cuts in the White House's sequestration plan. 

"If I could give everyone [in Washington] a Christmas gift ... it would be courage," Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said during a speech Monday before the conservative Concerned Veterans for America group in Washington. 

Ayotte said that lawmakers and President Obama must both break away from entrenched, partisan positions to avoid the sequestration cuts that would hit the Pentagon budget hard.

Ayotte's statement came as both Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) suggested talks were stalemated, with only three weeks remaining until a set of tax hikes and automatic spending cuts take effect. The New Hampshire Republican, however, saved her harshest criticisms for the White House.

She said the president had shown a lack of leadership and blamed him for a defeatist atmosphere inside the Beltway over whether a deal can be reached.

"We can't just roll over and think that sequestration is the right [path] to take," she added.


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