Overnight Defense: House passes $692B compromise defense bill | McCain threatens to block nominees over Army waivers | Senators weigh Trump's nuclear strike authority | Air Force faces serious pilot shortage

Overnight Defense: House passes $692B compromise defense bill | McCain threatens to block nominees over Army waivers | Senators weigh Trump's nuclear strike authority | Air Force faces serious pilot shortage
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THE TOPLINE: The House on Tuesday easily passed the 2018 fiscal year's nearly $700 billion defense policy bill.

The House voted 356-70 to approve the $692 billion compromise National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) reached after House-Senate negotiations.

The compromise version would authorize $626.4 billion for the base defense budget and $65.7 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.

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The money would go toward a 2.4 percent pay raise for troops, an increase of 20,000 active duty and reserve troops across the services, bulked up missile defense, increased operations in Afghanistan and more ships, planes and other equipment.

The bill is moving forward without an agreement in Congress to raise budget caps, which NDAA funding levels burst through.

That means some of the money authorized could end up not coming to fruition.

Read more here.

 

MCCAIN THREATENS TO BLOCK PENTAGON NOMINEES: Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.) is again threatening to hold up Pentagon nominees, this time over a news report about the Army granting mental health waivers to recruits.

At issue is a USA Today report that said the Army has lifted a ban on issuing waivers for recruits with a history of self-harm, bipolar disorder, depression or drug and alcohol abuse.

McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his committee was not notified of the policy change prior to the news article, an issue McCain has railed against for months.

"It's a problem that, frankly, that this committee is having with the administration," McCain said during a hearing Tuesday. "We should've been told about this before it showed up in a USA Today article. The Army did not respond to a question of how many waivers, if any, have been issued since the policy was changed."

McCain was speaking at the confirmation hearing for Anthony Kurta to be principal deputy under secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, James McPherson, to be Army general counsel and Gregory Maggs to be a judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

Read more here.

 

SENATORS HOLD HEARING ON NUCLEAR AUTHORITY: U.S. Strategic Command has the obligation to refuse to launch nuclear weapons if the order to do so is illegal, the former head of the command said Tuesday.

But retired Gen. C. Robert Kehler conceded that he does not what would happen after the head of Strategic Command (Stratcom) raises questions of legality, saying the scenarios being presented by senators have not happened.

"I would have said, 'I have a question about this and I would have said I'm not ready to proceed,'" Kehler told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when asked what he would have done if he felt an order to launch nuclear weapons was not thoroughly vetted.

But asked by Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonOvernight Cybersecurity: Panel pushes agencies on dropping Kaspersky software | NC county won't pay ransom to hackers | Lawmakers sound alarm over ISIS 'cyber caliphate' GOP chairman warns of ISIS's ‘cyber caliphate’ Overnight Finance: House approves motion to go to tax conference — with drama | GOP leaders to consider Dec. 30 spending bill | Justices skeptical of ban on sports betting | Mulvaney won't fire official who sued him MORE (R-Wis.) what would happen next, Kehler said, "I don't know exactly. Fortunately, we've never-- these are all hypothetical scenarios."

Kehler was testifying alongside other former officials at the first House or Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the nuclear command and control structure since 1976.

The hearing, convened by the Senate committee's chairman, Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerFormer Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report McConnell 'almost certain' GOP will pass tax reform Former New Mexico gov: Trump's foreign policy is getting 'criticized by everybody' MORE (R-Tenn.), has been seen as rebuke of President Trump, given Corker's fierce criticism of the president in recent weeks.

Read the rest here.

 

AIR FORCE FACING PILOT SHORTAGE: The Air Force is sounding the alarm on a 2,000-pilot shortage it says it's facing.

The Hill's Ellen Mitchell reports:

Top Air Force leaders and lawmakers are warning that a pilot shortage of 2,000 could cripple the service, leaving it unready to handle its responsibilities.

"With 2,000 pilots short, it'll break the force. It'll break it," Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said on Thursday during the annual State of the Air Force news conference.

The Air Force needs 20,000 pilots minimum to fly its wide range of aircraft, including fighter jets, helicopters, transport planes, support attack planes and cargo aircraft. At the start of the year, it said it had 18,500 pilots, well short of its minimum.

As of last week, the shortfall has jumped to a full 2,000 -- meaning about 10 percent of its positions are unfilled. The majority are fighter pilots.

The problem is not that the Air Force is having trouble recruiting. It's that airlines are offering bigger paychecks, and pilots are leaving when they are up for reenlistment.

Read more here.

 

ON TAP FOR TOMORROW:

Three former Navy secretaries will speak at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on the prospects and challenges of building the 350-ship Navy at 10 a.m. Wednesday at 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington. http://bit.ly/2ym4FF5

Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinVA slashes program that helps homeless veterans obtain housing: report Shulkin is the right man to navigate changing role of private providers with VA VA Secretary Shulkin seeks larger role for private health care MORE will testify before a House Appropriations subpanel on VA electronic health record oversight at 10 a.m. in Rayburn House Office Building, room 2362-A. http://bit.ly/2ztFaTo

The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on maximizing the value of cyber threat information sharing at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the House Visitors Center, room 210. http://bit.ly/2iKs2ii

A Senate Appropriations subpanel will hear from Veterans Affairs officials on the agency's efforts to prevent and combat opioid over medication at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room 124. http://bit.ly/2jfv4z9

 

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-- Associated Press: Seoul: N. Koreans fired 40 shots at defector, hit him with 5

-- Bloomberg: North Korea's winter training means fewer missile launches

 

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Kheel, rkheel@thehill.com, and Ellen Mitchell, emitchell@thehill.com.

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