CBO LOWERS SCORE ON VETERANS BILL: A House approved plan to overhaul the troubled Veterans Affairs Department will cost $35 billion to carry out through 2024, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office announced on Thursday.
The brand new figure is significantly less than an estimate the agency made last month that predicted the House bill to revamp the VA would cost at least $44 billion over five years.
The new price tag could prove more palatable to fiscally conservative House and Senate lawmakers appointed to a 28-member panel tasked with hammering out compromise legislation.
MILITARY NOMINATIONS: Senators heard from the president's picks for several key military posts during their nomination hearing on Thursday.
The nominees included Army Gen. John Campbell for International Security Assistance Force commander in Afghanistan, Navy Adm. William Gortney for commander of U.S. Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, and Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Votel for commander of U.S. Special Operations Command.
Senate Armed Services Committee members lobbed questions on Afghanistan, the jihadist reemergence in Iraq, missile defense, an influx of Central American immigrants into the U.S., and the mental health of special operations forces.
During the hearing, several lawmakers expressed worry that Afghanistan would go the way of Iraq.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he worried that the president's troop drawdown in Afghanistan would be based on "arbitrary timelines" instead of "facts on the ground."
"The president tried the same failed policies in Iraq in 2011 and I fear we’re doomed to repeat the same mistake in Afghanistan," he said.
"I watched and analyzed the mistakes of Iraq, and I think many of them are going to come to pass again in Afghanistan,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). “And then, I'm wondering if we're going to do the exact same thing again.
"I think you are being given an impossible task in Afghanistan," she told Campbell, Obama’s pick for Afghan war commander.
Gen. Campbell said he endorsed the president's plan to drawdown forces to 9,800 by the end of the year, to 5,500 by the end of 2015 and then to a smaller embassy security force in 2016.
However, he said he would provide Congress with an assessment of whether that plan should be changed.
"I would provide my best military advice on the pace of the change, the pace of the draw-down," he said.
F-35 ONE-OFF? An engine fire last month on a pricey F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may be a fluke, according to a top Pentagon official.
“There’s a growing body of evidence that this may have been an individual situation, not a systemic one,” Frank Kendall, the Defense Department’s chief weapons buyer, told the House Armed Services Committee.
“But we don’t know at this point,” he added. A June 23 blaze aboard one of the planes kicked off an investigation that led to a fleet-wide flight ban.
At nearly $400 billion and counting to develop, the F-35 is the most expensive weapons effort in U.S. history and has had a long history of technical issues.
The Pentagon had hoped to showcase the Marine Corps version of the pricey aircraft at a pair of world-renowned air shows in Great Britain and assure anxious international partners the jet is viable.
However, the fighter didn’t appear at day one of the Royal International Air Tattoo show in Gloucestershire, England, but it could still show up over the weekend.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, the site of the fire, but was mum on whether the F-35 would appear in the U.K. or when the bird might be in the air again.
Read more here: http://bit.ly/U5Qdtr
DOJ PUNTS ON CIA-SENATE INTEL FRAY: The Department of Justice has decided not to pursue accusations that the CIA spied on the Senate Intelligence Committee, nor will it investigate charges that committee staffers took classified documents from a secure CIA facility.
"The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation," Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr told The Hill.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman, blasted the CIA in March, saying it had spied on her staffers conducting an investigation into the agency's rendition, detention and interrogation program during the George W. Bush administration.
The committee has produced a 6,600-page report on the program after clashing repeatedly with the CIA during the process. Feinstein alleged the CIA had snooped on the committee's activities at a secure facility where staffers were allowed to review highly classified cables and other documents.
The CIA, in turn, alleged that the staffers had taken unauthorized documents while conducting their investigation.
Both sides had referred criminal charges against each other to the Justice Department.
The executive summary of the report is due to be released this year. Nearly 500 pages of the executive summary is being reviewed by the CIA and the White House for redactions.
Read more here: http://bit.ly/1jvpGSf
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
-- Lawmakers unveil bill to prevent veteran suicides: http://bit.ly/1rZRpNs
-- Kerry arrives in Afghanistan to help resolve election crisis: http://bit.ly/1qOTWYJ
-- VA names interim medical inspector: http://bit.ly/1rZRAIz
-- Treasury levies sanctions on company aiding Hezbollah: http://bit.ly/1rcmJpy
-- Joint Chiefs endorse Bergdahl swap: http://bit.ly/1oI6VZh