OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House works through 2015 defense bill

The Topline: House lawmakers are poised to take a series of votes on their version of the annual defense authorization bill.

Members must wade through nearly 170 amendments to the Pentagon budget blueprint, with debate expected to wrap up some time Thursday afternoon. But much of the attention will be on proposals that will not see the light of day.

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The House Rules Committee swept a number of the most contentious amendments into the dustbin, including one by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) that would have put young illegal immigrants who serve in the military on a path to legalization.

The panel also threw out two measures from Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee. One requested the Pentagon to enact a new round of base closures in 2017, while the other would have allowed the Navy to lay up 11 of its cruisers for modernization.

Smith’s colleagues will still have the opportunity to vote on his amendments that aim to shutter the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Benefit reforms dashed: A subpanel of the Senate Armed Services Committee junked a series of proposals by the Defense Department to curb troop benefits.

The Personnel subcommittee ignored the Pentagon’s request to save more than $2 billion by consolidating TRICARE, the healthcare plan for military families, boosting the amount service members would have to pay for housing and reducing direct subsidies for commissaries.

The full Senate Armed Services Committee will unveil the complete version of its 2015 defense authorization bill some time in the next week.

Navy needs 11 carriers: Navy Chief Adm. Jonathan Greenert said the Navy needs 11 aircraft carriers to meet security demands now and in the future, despite a Pentagon plan to retire one and bring the count down to 10 to meet defense budget caps.

“When I look out in the future, we need at least 11 carriers,” Greenert said Wednesday at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington.

“We would have to change the way we do presence, and the way we think about contingency response if we go to 10 aircraft carriers,” he added.

Greenert’s comments come despite Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recommendation to retire the USS George Washington in 2016.

His 2015 defense budget request did not include money to refuel the carrier — a necessary step to extend its life for an additional 25 years and keep it in the fleet.

Hagel and defense officials have urged Congress to lift defense budget caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, but say retiring the carrier and other tough decisions are necessary if the caps stay in place.

A current shortage of carriers around the world will lead to four months without a single U.S. aircraft carrier in the Asia Pacific region -— an area of high priority for the Obama administration.

Greenert said that situation was “clearly” worrisome.

US troops to Chad:  President Obama announced Wednesday that the U.S. had deployed 80 U.S. troops to Chad to assist in the search for more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who were kidnapped by Islamic extremist group Boko Haram last month.

The troops will be part of a support team that will include an unarmed and unmanned Predator drone to help locate the abducted girls. There will also be security forces alongside to protect the team, which will mostly be Air Force personnel.

The president notified Congress of the deployment on Wednesday, in a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

"The force will remain in Chad until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required," the letter said.

Defense officials pushed back against the notion that the deployment would lead to any ground operation, and said the main reason for the deployment is to add to existing U.S. manned and unmanned surveillance being conducted now. 

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