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Republicans furious at leaked Pentagon memo

Republicans furious at leaked Pentagon memo
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Republicans are fuming after an internal Pentagon memo that outlines the department's strategies to oppose annual defense policy and spending bills was released Monday. 

“For this administration, it's always politics first, even at the Pentagon,” House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Pelosi and Trump go a full year without speaking Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats MORE (R-Wis.) said in a written statement. “This memo details with relish a plan to use a presidential veto of a defense bill as a 'weapon.'”

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The five-page memo was written in May and talks about the Pentagon’s plan to “play hardball” in opposing the House’s defense funding plans.

At issue is how the House bills would use a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to get around budget caps. A portion of the war fund would be used for base budget items, leaving the OCO account dry by April and forcing the next president to request supplemental funding.

Meanwhile, the Senate versions of the policy and spending bills stick to the president’s budget request and last year’s Bipartisan Budget Act.

The Obama administration has threatened to veto the House bills, in part because of the OCO issue.

“In short, we should attack the OCO gimmick and be prepared to play hardball opposing it,” says the Pentagon memo, which was obtained first by Politico. “The veto threat is our primary weapon. However, a veto threat only works if it is supported by the Democratic leadership and their caucuses. Our job is to encourage and support those efforts.”

The Pentagon has not been quiet about its opposition; in July it took the unusual step of publicly releasing Defense Secretary Ash Carter's so-called heartburn letter to Congress outlining his concerns with the defense policy bill.

The memo published Monday was written by Pentagon comptroller Mike McCord and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Stephen Hedger.

The memo lays out meetings, fact sheets and speeches Pentagon leaders should give to oppose the bills, such as engaging with Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainObama book excerpt: 'Hard to deny my overconfidence' during early health care discussions Mark Kelly releases Spanish ad featuring Rep. Gallego More than 300 military family members endorse Biden MORE (R-Ariz.) and Thad CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranObama endorses Espy in Mississippi Senate race Espy wins Mississippi Senate Democratic primary Bottom Line MORE (R-Miss.), since the Senate bills did not include the OCO tactic. The memo also describes the stances of key players in Congress.

“Republican leadership will gauge both what they believe can achieve passage and the political aspects of a debate,” the memo says. “That said, Speaker Ryan directed the [House Appropriations defense subcommittee] to follow the [House Armed Services Committee] gimmick and they have. He is therefore an active participant with the gimmick.”

The memo also assesses that Rep. Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenBottom line Republican lobbying firms riding high despite uncertainty of 2020 race Ex-Rep. Frelinghuysen joins law and lobby firm MORE (R-N.J.), chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, "may be less enthused" about the House funding tactic, but went along with it at Ryan's direction.

"Capitalizing on his discomfort could help prevent the gimmick from surviving," the memo says of Frelinghuysen.

In his statement, Ryan called the memo “shameless.”

“It's shameless, and it threatens more than five decades of bipartisan cooperation to enact a national defense bill for our troops,” he said. “The men and women who defend our country deserve better."

The memo also describes House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) as “still smarting” from last year’s veto of the defense policy bill.

In his own statement, Thornberry said the memo is evidence of the Obama administration playing political games.

"It is unfortunate and rather sad that some in the Obama administration spend so much time and effort playing political games, as evidenced by this memo,” he said. “In a department charged with the security of our nation, the American people and our troops deserve better."

Both parties, he added, are working on the defense bill.

"Members of Congress in both sides of the aisle are working to meet our responsibilities to our troops and to the nation,” he said. “I hope that in the next administration we will have a partner who will do the same."

-- Updated at 1:59 p.m.