OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Pentagon sticking by Obama budget cuts

The Topline: Pentagon officials said Thursday they are standing behind President Obama’s 2015 defense budget blueprint, despite the House Armed Services Committee batting down many of those proposals.

“We stand firmly behind the president's budget as submitted,” said Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren. He added that it was long-standing policy not to comment on legislation that's being drafted.

The Armed Services committee unanimously passed its 2015 defense authorization bill just after midnight, early on Thursday, which if passed into law, would prevent many cuts the Pentagon says are needed. 

ADVERTISEMENT
The Pentagon planned to retire a Navy aircraft carrier and the Air Force's A-10 fleet, transfer the National Guard's Apache attack helicopters to active duty, reduce troop pay raises and benefits and close excess bases. The committee's bill would block all of those proposals. 

The full House will vote on the bill in two weeks. It would then have to be reconciled with a Senate version of the legislation.

Several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have indicated they would also reject plans to retire the A-10 and transfer the National Guard's attack helicopters to the active duty Army. 

Military chiefs have warned that if they are not allowed to make those cuts, they will have to redraft their 2015 defense budget requests. But on Thursday, Pentagon officials said it was still too early to predict the next step.

Shinseki to testify: It's been a rough week for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. After allegations that veterans at a second VA clinic were being placed on secret waiting lists to obscure long wait times, several lawmakers and veterans groups this week called for his resignation. 

On Thursday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee announced it was subpoenaing Shinseki to testify before the committee on the allegations, and separately the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee announced a hearing next Thursday where he would testify. 

The Senate committee's chairman, Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Clip shows Larry David and Bernie Sanders reacting after discovering they're related For now, Trump dossier creates more questions than answers MORE (I-Vt.), said the hearing next Thursday will take a broader look at the overall VA healthcare system.

Sanders has not called for Shinseki's resignation, saying he would wait until the VA inspector general investigated the claims that veterans died while waiting for treatment.

“I expect the [VA] inspector general will conduct the investigation thoroughly and provide this committee with an objective analysis of these allegations,” he said. 

Sanders noted that "some 200,000 veterans get care every single day," and that "independent studies show that VA provides, in general, excellent care to our veterans." 

However, he added, "in a system as large and bureaucratic as the VA, it is imperative that we uncover the problems that exist in the system and address them boldly."

Senators applaud A-10 save: A group of GOP senators lauded the House Armed Services Committee for staving off the mothballing of the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft fleet for at least another year.

The panel, in its marathon mark up of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, easily adopted an amendment sponsored by Rep. Ron BarberRonald (Ron) Sylvester BarberPrinciples and actions mean more than Jeff Flake’s words Giffords to lawmakers avoiding town halls: 'Have some courage' Ten House seats Dems hope Trump will tilt MORE (D-Ariz.) that delays the retirement of the aircraft, dubbed by troops as the “Warthog,” for one year and requires the Pentagon to study whether other aircraft can provide adequate close air support.

“We applaud the committee members for honoring our commitment to provide our troops the best possible close air support so they can accomplish their missions and return home safely,” Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteDems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Stale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Trump voter fraud commission sets first meeting outside DC MORE (R-N.H.) John McCainJohn Sidney McCainRubio asks Army to kick out West Point grad with pro-communist posts The VA's woes cannot be pinned on any singular administration Overnight Defense: Mattis offers support for Iran deal | McCain blocks nominees over Afghanistan strategy | Trump, Tillerson spilt raises new questions about N. Korea policy MORE (R-Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamDurbin: I had 'nothing to do' with Curbelo snub Republicans jockey for position on immigration Overnight Health Care: House passes 20-week abortion ban | GOP gives ground over ObamaCare fix | Price exit sets off speculation over replacement MORE (R-S.C.) and Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party MORE (R-Ga.) said in a joint statement.

The Air Force wants to retire the 283-plane fleet to save $3.5 billion over the next five years.

The Republican senators vowed to defend the Warthog fleet when the Senate Armed Services Committee takes up its version of the defense authorization bill later this month.

Afghan visa revamp: A coalition of lawmakers debuted a proposal to allow more Afghan civilians who have served as interpreters and guides to get visas to the United States.

The legislation, endorsed by Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenHomeland Security searching some social media doesn't violate privacy The feds shouldn't blackball Kaspersky without public evidence Week ahead: Crunch time for defense bill’s cyber reforms | Equifax under scrutiny MORE (D-.N.H.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Reps. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerCongress should stand with the majority of Americans and support Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment Dem to join mental health group advocating Trump's removal House votes to block aircraft sales to Iran MORE (D-Ore.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) would prolong the 2009 Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) effort for another fiscal year.

The proposed measure would also expand the eligibility of the program to include Afghans who helped the International Security Assistance Force, media outlets and non-profits organizations, as well as their families.

It would also approve an additional 3,000 visas and allow any unused slots from fiscal 2014 to be carried over.

“We have a responsibility to fulfill the obligation to the thousands of civilians who risked their lives to help our country during a time of war,” Shaheen said at a joint press conference on the measure.

In Case You Missed It:

-FLOTUS will meet veterans with Landrieu

-Ranking Democrat seeks legal status for illegal immigrants in military

-Reid sets up vote on O-Care tweak for veterans

-No plans for Obama-Putin meeting in France

-Casey to Obama: We must do more in Syria

Please send tips and comments to Kristina Wong, kwong@thehill.com and Martin Matishak, mmatishak@thehill.com.

Follow us on Twitter: @thehill @kristina_wong @martinmatishak