OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Pentagon details deep sequester cuts

In an effort to highlight the effect the cuts are having on the military, Hagel said the Pentagon will begin submitting two versions of its annual budget plan to the White House over the next four years, beginning in 2015.

The Pentagon released its sequester plan ahead of a House Armed Services Committee hearing on the department's plans to deal with the across-the-board cuts.

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Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. James Winnefeld will defend the department's sequester plan during the hearing, scheduled for Thursday.

The potential cuts could used by defense-minded lawmakers to try and convince their colleagues to avert the sequester. But thus far there’s been little movement in Congress to try to avert the cuts.

President Obama told Senate Democrats on Wednesday that any reductions to the defense sequester would have to be coupled with equal reductions in cuts to domestic discretionary programs. 

McKeon: ‘No feeling of hopefulness’: House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) sounded a pessimistic note on Wednesday over the Pentagon’s budget proposal after getting briefed on the plans.

“I left with no feeling of hopefulness,” McKeon told The Hill Wednesday.

In his public statement in response to the review, McKeon said that the potential cuts made clear that sequestration will “cause catastrophic readiness shortfalls.”

He also criticized it as a “budget-driven” exercise that didn’t address the underlying strategy issues that would result from a smaller budget.

House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith (D-Wash.), meanwhile, chastised lawmakers over the review, saying that Congress was “abdicating its constitutional responsibility to responsibly fund the military” by allowing sequestration to continue.

Smith called for Congress to lift the sequestration cuts on the military without replacing them, a plan that defense hawks might support but would not pass muster with the fiscal hawks in Congress.

Besides McKeon and Smith, there were few statements coming from lawmakers in reaction to the Pentagon's potential cuts.

Obama to meet with lawmakers on NSA: President Obama will be meeting with key lawmakers on both sides of the National Security Agency debate at the White House on Thursday to discuss its surveillance programs, according to a White House official.

The meeting is occurring as the Obama administration is trying to ease growing concern from lawmakers about the reach of the telephone and Internet surveillance programs.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper de-classified new documents about the phone surveillance activities on Wednesday, and NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander will answer lawmakers’ questions at a classified briefing Thursday on Capitol Hill.

Obama addressed the NSA programs at his meeting with Senate Democrats on Wednesday, saying that he would address lawmakers’ concerns.

"He’s willing to get together with members who are concerned about it and try to talk about a potential way forward,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

The group of lawmakers heading to the White House includes Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who have been outspoken critics recently of the NSA programs, as well as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and ranking member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.).

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) will also attend, as will House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), the original author of the Patriot Act.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who authored last week’s amendment to curb the NSA’s powers that narrowly failed, does not appear to be invited.

McCain threatens funds for new Marine One: One lawmaker is threatening to clip the wings of the Pentagon's latest Marine One replacement program before it gets off the ground.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) vowed "to keep very close watch" on how the Navy proceeds with its plans to select a manufacturer to build the prototype helicopter, known as the VXX.

"We can cut off funding if we think [the selection] is unsatisfactory, before it gets into production," McCain said.

Pentagon leaders plan to buy 21 new presidential helicopters, and expect to have the first aircraft in the field by 2020, according to Navy spokeswoman Capt. Cate Mueller.

She declined to comment on the total anticipated price tag.

The Pentagon's last attempt to build a VXX prototype failed due to skyrocketing costs from a slew of design requirements added by Department of Defense and White House officials.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates pulled the plug on the program in 2009, after congressional scrutiny over the numerous delays and cost increases reached a fever pitch on Capitol Hill.

At the time of Gates's cancellation, program engineers were only able to build nine aircraft after spending billions in taxpayer dollars.

That said, McCain noted the lack of competition on the VXX program could be a deal breaker, and argued the Navy's decision reflects the service's "abysmal" record in getting a Marine One replacement in the skies.

"The last [attempt] ended up being more expensive than Air Force One," he said, referring to the president’s personal plane.


In Case You Missed It:

— Rep. Smith: Just ditch sequestration

— Playboy, Penthouse pulled from military shelves

— Lawmakers summoned to classified NSA meeting

— Kerry in Pakistan to talk drone strikes

— Special ops commander briefs panel on Benghazi


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