OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senate Appropriators take crack at defense budget

Defense authorizers approved the Navy's plan to implement multi-year buys for the Virginia-class submarine, the Arleigh Burke-class of destroyers and the controversial V-22 Osprey. Army acquisition officials were also given the green light to begin buying new CH-47 Chinook helicopters under a new multi-year deal. But even if Senate appropriators are able to clear the defense bill through the committee, its unlikely the full Senate will be able to weigh in on the legislation before the congressional recess. 

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Members are set to leave town at the end of this week, and aren't expected to return to town until after the presidential conventions in September. 

Vets group takes aim at military health funding shift: The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) is joining a call from lawmakers questioning the Pentagon’s request to shift FY2012 funds out of the Defense Health Program. The veterans said Monday that the Defense Department’s request to move $708 million out of healthcare in its $8 billion reprogramming request submitted to Congress last month is a “smoking gun” that “shows defense leaders have been misrepresenting its health care costs.”

MOAA and other veterans groups have been criticizing the Pentagon for proposing TRICARE fee increases in its 2013 budget, and Congress has blocked the increases in its 2013 Defense authorization and appropriations bill thus far. The Pentagon says that it needs the fee increases to deal with the ballooning cost of military healthcare, but MOAA points to the reprogramming requests, which states “funds are available because of a significant downward spike in the private sector care (PSC) cost growth rates.”

“For months, the Defense Department has defended its proposals to punish beneficiaries with thousands a year in higher TRICARE fees by claiming fast-rising TRICARE costs are ‘eating us alive,’ ” said MOAA President Vice Adm. Norb Ryan said in a statement. “But the reprogramming memo the Pentagon just sent to Congress indicates those claims were flatly untrue, and DOD leaders should have known it.”

But the Pentagon says that the historically low cost-growth rates are not likely to continue, and the department’s health costs are expected to grow faster than the overall budget.

“While the Defense Health Program (DHP) has recently experienced lower than anticipated cost growth that has resulted in a funding surplus from budgeted levels, this does not change the fact that Military Health System costs have increased from $19 billion in FY 2001 to more than $52 billion in FY 2011 — an increase of 174 percent,” Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins said in an email.

“TRICARE fees have not been increased significantly for about fifteen years, which has contributed to this rapid growth in the Department's health care costs. The Department has requested higher TRICARE fees to help control these costs and move the cost-sharing ratio back toward the levels originally mandated by the Congress,” she said.

Chambliss defends anti-leak provisions: Nineteen civil liberties groups took aim Monday at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s intelligence authorization bill, which included provisions designed to crack down on classified leaks. The bill allowed for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to issue punitive measures against leakers, a change that the groups said would have a chilling effect on potential whistleblowers.

But Committee Vice Chairman Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Republicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' MORE says the concerns are unfounded. His spokeswoman said in a statement that the section in question is a narrowly targeted provision “to ensure that individuals comply with pre-publication review requirements before publishing books or articles or making media appearances.”

“This provision does nothing to chill whistleblowers. Employees who want to expose waste, fraud and abuse would remain unimpeded in making those disclosures to Congress and agency inspectors general, as no pre-publication review is required to do so,” she said.

A mixed bag in Afghanistan?: With the first American troops set to come home from Afghanistan over the next few weeks, there are more questions than answers on the security situation they are leaving behind. On Monday, the Pentagon's Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) issued his latest assessment of the country's stability. In the 'win' column, the number of Afghan military and police units working with little to no supervision by U.S. trainers has gone up in the past two months. Also the number of directorates within the country's ministry of defense that are planning missions against Taliban forces in country has also increased, according to the SIGAR report. But that's only the silver lining, DOD auditors claim.

Several key infrastructure programs, almost entirely financed by Defense Department and State Department dollars, continue to come in over budget and well behind schedule. A number of these programs are located in Eastern Afghanistan, along the country's volatile border with Pakistan, where U.S. and coalition forces are focusing their efforts in what could be the final campaign of the war. 

The failure of these projects has cast doubt on the willingness of Afghans to take responsibility to secure these areas and raised the specter of a resurgent Taliban taking root in these areas once U.S. and NATO forces leave. On the border areas specifically, several security checkpoints built by coalition forces have been abandoned by Afghan forces due to "construction deficiencies" in those outposts. Those deficiencies include lack of heat, electricity or running water, despite the millions of U.S. dollars that have been pumped into their construction.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: 

— Sen. Inhofe takes flak for Navy biofuel attacks

— Panetta weighs in on Iranian sanctions 

— White House fires back on doomsday sequestration scenarios 

— U.S. drone strikes kills seven in northwest Pakistan 

— DOD pledges counterterror support to Tunisia


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