OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: House panel approves $491B for Pentagon

THE TOPLINE: The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday easily passed a $491 billion spending bill for the Defense Department.

The panel became the first to axe the Air Force’s much beloved A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft fleet. Members defeated, by a show of hands, an amendment offered by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) to keep the attack plane, commonly known at the “Warthog,” flying for at least one more year.

The committee’s markup of the massive spending measure, which took less than four hours to complete, saw lawmakers adopt a provision that would prevent the DOD from using funds to transfer more prisoners from the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The legislation is a direct response to the administration’s controversial prisoner trade that saw U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl freed in exchange for five Taliban commanders.

Committee members also junked two measures that would have reined in the longstanding authorizations for use of military force.

The spending measure, adopted by voice vote, could reach the House floor as soon as next week.

VA REFORM TO HIT SENATE FLOOR. A bipartisan bill to reform the Veterans Affairs Department’s scandal-plagued healthcare system could come up for debate as soon as Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWATCH: There is no Trump-Russia collusion and the media should stop pushing this The demise of debate in Congress ‘North by Northwest,’ the Carter Page remake MORE (D-Nev.) said he would call up the legislation “in the next 24 hours, 48 hours at the most.”

“We’re going to take it up tomorrow,” said Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLawmakers worry about rise of fake video technology Democrats put Dreamers and their party in danger by playing hardball Trump set a good defense budget, but here is how to make it better MORE (R-Ariz.), who crafted the measure along with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states After Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward MORE (I-Vt.).

The House passed its own VA healthcare reform bill on Tuesday, twice. The measure lets veterans visit private doctors if they cannot see an agency doctor within 14 days.

BERGDAHL DEBATE BREWS ON. The White House strongly refuted claims by GOP lawmakers that it was attempting to shift responsibility for the controversial Bergdahl prisoner trade onto Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelIntel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security Hagel: Trump is 'an embarrassment' Tax cut complete, hawks push for military increase MORE.

It also denied rumors that nearly 100 members of the administration knew about the swap in advance. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said while anywhere from 80 to 90 had access to intelligence on Taliban moves in Qatar, fewer knew about the mission to rescue Bergdahl.

Democrats appeared to close ranks behind the administration’s handling of the matter with House Democratic Whip Steny Hower (Md.) saying the administration did not break the law in the trade.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinLawmakers feel pressure on guns Feinstein: Trump must urge GOP to pass bump stock ban Florida lawmakers reject motion to consider bill that would ban assault rifles MORE (D-Calif.) also backed away from her criticism of the White House, saying “enough is enough” and that it was time to end the debate over Bergdahl.

Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRestoring fiscal sanity requires bipartisan courage GOP congressman slams primary rival for Ryan donations Speculation swirls about Kevin McCarthy’s future MORE (R-Ohio), though, predicted the U.S. would “pay” for releasing the Taliban commanders.


-5 US soldiers die in ‘friendly fire’ strike

-Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreJoe Lieberman: We’re well beyond partisanship, our national government has lost civility Trump doesn't start a trade war, just fires a warning shot across the bow Dems face hard choice for State of the Union response MORE: Snowden not a traitor

-Rubio slams Clinton for Benghazi remarks

-Dem: Leaks come from administration, not Congress

-Feinstein backs off Bergdahl criticism


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