OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Dems weigh tying immigration to defense bill

The Topline: Senate Democrats are considering adding language to the annual defense authorization bill that would grant legal status to undocumented young people who serve in the military.

“There will probably be a lot of support for it but it’s got to be done at the right time, when it makes a positive contribution to that goal,” said Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

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“There’s some question as to whether this is the time for it to be offered,” he added cautiously.

The debate over tying immigration reform to the Senate’s version of the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act was renewed after Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announced he would hold a hearing on the topic next week in Chicago.

Republicans, though, were quick to condemn the idea and warned that including immigration could derail efforts to pass the annual defense policy bill.

“I’m opposed to it overall and or in the NDAA,” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Armed Services panel’s ranking member, said.

No A-10 redux. Senate lawmakers will not follow a plan approved by their House counterparts to prevent the mothballing of the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft fleet, according to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee dismissed a move by the House to keep the plane, commonly known as the “Warthog,” flying for another year with $635 million in funds from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget.

“OCO is not a legitimate offset because it’s not even in the budget,” Levin told reporters.

He said the bid to save the 283-plane fleet was just one of the “many cases” where House members ignored the spending limits imposed by the Budget Control Act.

Levin declined to say what his committee would do when it takes up its version of the annual defense policy bill next week.

Wait lists. A number of lawmakers on Tuesday urged President Obama and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to act over recent allegations that wait lists of appointments were doctored to obscure long wait times at VA medical centers. 

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) called on Obama to appoint a bipartisan commission to investigate veterans’ access to medical care.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wrote to Shinseki, asking for data on wait lists at VA facilities in Florida, particularly one clinic in February that had 2,400 veterans waiting for care. 

Missouri Sens. Roy Blunt (R) and Claire McCaskill (D) also wrote Shinseki on Tuesday, asking about veterans’ access to mental healthcare in their state, following allegations that mental health providers were seeing patients for only a fraction of their workday. 

Shinseki is due to testify in front of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee this Thursday.

Ranking member Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has suggested that it is "time for new leadership." 

Rocket ban. Russia announced Tuesday that Moscow would bar the U.S. from using Russian-made rocket engines to launch military satellites in addition to other punitive measures in retaliation for American sanctions.

"We are very concerned about continuing to develop high-tech projects with such an unreliable partner as the United States, which politicizes everything," Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Tuesday, according to Reuters

The moves were in response to U.S. sanctions on the export of high-tech equipment that could be used by Russia’s military amid the Ukraine crisis. Rogozin called the export ban "out of place and inappropriate."  

The U.S. maintains a two-year stockpile of the rockets, so there would be no immediate effect from the ban, but producing an alternative vehicle would take about five years. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have pushed to end U.S. reliance on Russia for engines and space transportation.

Earlier this month, the House Armed Services Committee passed a defense authorization bill that would put money towards developing an alternative to Russian-made rocket engines by 2019. 

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