OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Pentagon sticking by Obama budget cuts

The Topline: Pentagon officials said Thursday they are standing behind President Obama’s 2015 defense budget blueprint, despite the House Armed Services Committee batting down many of those proposals.

“We stand firmly behind the president's budget as submitted,” said Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren. He added that it was long-standing policy not to comment on legislation that's being drafted.

The Armed Services committee unanimously passed its 2015 defense authorization bill just after midnight, early on Thursday, which if passed into law, would prevent many cuts the Pentagon says are needed. 

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The Pentagon planned to retire a Navy aircraft carrier and the Air Force's A-10 fleet, transfer the National Guard's Apache attack helicopters to active duty, reduce troop pay raises and benefits and close excess bases. The committee's bill would block all of those proposals. 

The full House will vote on the bill in two weeks. It would then have to be reconciled with a Senate version of the legislation.

Several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have indicated they would also reject plans to retire the A-10 and transfer the National Guard's attack helicopters to the active duty Army. 

Military chiefs have warned that if they are not allowed to make those cuts, they will have to redraft their 2015 defense budget requests. But on Thursday, Pentagon officials said it was still too early to predict the next step.

Shinseki to testify: It's been a rough week for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. After allegations that veterans at a second VA clinic were being placed on secret waiting lists to obscure long wait times, several lawmakers and veterans groups this week called for his resignation. 

On Thursday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee announced it was subpoenaing Shinseki to testify before the committee on the allegations, and separately the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee announced a hearing next Thursday where he would testify. 

The Senate committee's chairman, Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump to hold campaign rally in Michigan Castro hits fundraising threshold for December debate Buttigieg draws fresh scrutiny, attacks in sprint to Iowa MORE (I-Vt.), said the hearing next Thursday will take a broader look at the overall VA healthcare system.

Sanders has not called for Shinseki's resignation, saying he would wait until the VA inspector general investigated the claims that veterans died while waiting for treatment.

“I expect the [VA] inspector general will conduct the investigation thoroughly and provide this committee with an objective analysis of these allegations,” he said. 

Sanders noted that "some 200,000 veterans get care every single day," and that "independent studies show that VA provides, in general, excellent care to our veterans." 

However, he added, "in a system as large and bureaucratic as the VA, it is imperative that we uncover the problems that exist in the system and address them boldly."

Senators applaud A-10 save: A group of GOP senators lauded the House Armed Services Committee for staving off the mothballing of the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft fleet for at least another year.

The panel, in its marathon mark up of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, easily adopted an amendment sponsored by Rep. Ron BarberRonald (Ron) Sylvester BarberKavanaugh nomination a make or break moment to repeal Citizens United Latina Leaders to Watch 2018 Principles and actions mean more than Jeff Flake’s words MORE (D-Ariz.) that delays the retirement of the aircraft, dubbed by troops as the “Warthog,” for one year and requires the Pentagon to study whether other aircraft can provide adequate close air support.

“We applaud the committee members for honoring our commitment to provide our troops the best possible close air support so they can accomplish their missions and return home safely,” Sens. 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.) John McCainJohn Sidney McCainLessons of the Kamala Harris campaign Overnight Defense: Trump clashes with Macron at NATO summit | House impeachment report says Trump abused power | Top Dem scolds military leaders on Trump intervention in war crimes cases Top Armed Services Democrat scolds military leaders on Trump's intervention in war crimes cases MORE (R-Ariz.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP senator blocks Armenian genocide resolution Hannity slams Stern for Clinton interview: 'Not the guy I grew up listening to' The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment MORE (R-S.C.) and 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 (R-Ga.) said in a joint statement.

The Air Force wants to retire the 283-plane fleet to save $3.5 billion over the next five years.

The Republican senators vowed to defend the Warthog fleet when the Senate Armed Services Committee takes up its version of the defense authorization bill later this month.

Afghan visa revamp: A coalition of lawmakers debuted a proposal to allow more Afghan civilians who have served as interpreters and guides to get visas to the United States.

The legislation, endorsed by Sens. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Biden reveals four women he could pick as his running mate MORE (D-.N.H.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Reps. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerHillicon Valley: Progressives oppose funding bill over surveillance authority | Senators call for 5G security coordinator | Facebook gets questions over location tracking | Louisiana hit by ransomware attack Progressives oppose spending stopgap measure over surveillance authority extension House to hold markup Wednesday on marijuana decriminalization bill MORE (D-Ore.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) would prolong the 2009 Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) effort for another fiscal year.

The proposed measure would also expand the eligibility of the program to include Afghans who helped the International Security Assistance Force, media outlets and non-profits organizations, as well as their families.

It would also approve an additional 3,000 visas and allow any unused slots from fiscal 2014 to be carried over.

“We have a responsibility to fulfill the obligation to the thousands of civilians who risked their lives to help our country during a time of war,” Shaheen said at a joint press conference on the measure.

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