OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: OMB exempts personnel ahead of sequester hearing

Another administration guidance this week — from the Labor Department, telling defense contractors that it’s “inappropriate” to issue blanket layoff notices to employees due to sequestration — will only add to the list of grievances House Republican are likely to air.

McKeon said Monday that the guidance was “politically motivated,” and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate Fox's Wallace says 'well-connected' Republican told him there's a 20 percent chance GOP will vote for impeachment White House staggers after tumultuous 48 hours MORE (R-Ky.) went a step further on the floor Tuesday. 

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“The president doesn't want people reading about pink slips in the weeks before his election, so the White House is telling people to keep the effects of these cuts secret — don't tell anybody, he says, keep it a secret — until, of course, after the election," McConnell said.

While the guidance from OMB on military personnel could provide some hope for additional substance coming out of Wednesday’s hearing, a likelier bet is for lots of fireworks. 

Republicans slam personnel exemption: Fresh off their sequestration road trip, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Graham: 'Stupid' for Trump to ask China to investigate Biden Turkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate MORE (R-S.C.) and Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (R-N.H.) criticized President Obama Tuesday for preventing military pay from getting hit with the sequestration cuts. In a joint statement, the lawmakers argued that exempting military personnel was more harmful to the military’s readiness and will result in a “hollow force.”

“Today’s announcement by the president abrogates difficult decision-making in favor of scoring cheap political points, and will further undermine the readiness of our all-volunteer force,” the senators said.

McCain often issues joint statements, and his most frequent partners on foreign policy issues tend to be Graham and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). On sequestration, expect to see Ayotte’s name coming up again and again in the No. 3 spot. 

DOD gets what it wants from Senate: The Defense Department couldn't ask for much more from defense appropriators in the Senate, after subcommittee members approved a $604.4 billion Pentagon budget for fiscal 2013. The Senate draft of the spending bill passed by the subpanel on Tuesday is identical to the topline of the $604.5 billion request DOD sent to Capitol Hill in February. The full Senate Appropriations Committee will take up the bill on Thursday. 

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Navy shipbuilding and the department's growing fleet of unmanned aircraft were the big winners in the defense subcommittee's bill. But lawmakers did veto a Navy effort to retire a large portion of its current fleet to pay for the new vessels in the service's shipbuilding plan. The seven cruisers and two amphibious ships Navy leaders wanted to scrap are back in, at the direction of defense appropriators. But they were not as kind to other service initiatives.

Subpanel members took the budget axe to the Air Force's massive force restructuring strategy, putting the program on hold for FY '13. They also hammered key Army communications and unmanned drone accounts, stripping federal dollars from the service's Joint Tactical Radio and MQ-1 Grey Eagle aerial drone. 

Case closed on F-22 oxygen problems: The Air Force on Tuesday declared that it had solved the case on why its pilots were suffering from dangerous bouts of oxygen deprivation while flying the service's most advanced fighter jet, the F-22 Raptor. And according to top service leaders, it had nothing to do with the jet itself.

The problems were caused by malfunctions with the oxygen delivery system built into a vest worn by Raptor pilots, Maj. Gen. Charles Lyon, director of operations at Air Combat Command, told reporters on Tuesday. 

The vest, designed to inflate when pilots experienced dramatic g-forces while flying at excessive speeds or altitudes, would inflate even when those thresholds were not met. In those cases, the pressure from the inflating vest would cause pilots to suffer symptoms of hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation, Lyon explained. 

"If anybody doesn't believe me, go home tonight and put something really tight on your chest and breathe for a while and see what it does to you. You will get some symptoms after a while," the two-star general said. Air Force officials have since stopped using the faulty vests and are working to fix them.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

— Panetta downplays Egypt rift

— Supply-line deal a step forward

— OMB will begin consulting on sequester

— Administration orders new Iran sanctions

— Ahmadinejad mocks Romney


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