OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Dempsey warns of budget shortfall

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Wednesday said the Pentagon will need more money in 2016 than it is allowed under defense budget caps put into place by Congress and the White House in 2011. 

“We need additional topline for emerging and additional requirements,” Gen. Martin Dempsey said at the Defense One Summit in Washington.

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Dempsey declined to say how much more the Pentagon needed, although some reports have said the Department of Defense could face as much as a $60 billion shortfall. 

The Pentagon is scheduled to submit its 2016 budget request to Congress in March, and defense officials have said they are not planning according to the caps imposed by the sequester, which reduced planned defense spending by $500 billion over 10 years, beginning last year.

Todd Harrison, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said if the Pentagon submits a request that is higher than its spending cap, lawmakers will have a decision to make. 

Harrison predicted that Congress would strike “some kind of deal that raises the budget caps slightly.”

Incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryHouse and Senate head for showdown on must-pass defense bill House approves defense bill after adding liberal sweeteners Overnight Defense: Dems confident defense bill will pass despite party infighting | GOP chairman's bill would review US, Saudi ties | Senators briefed on sexual assault allegation against top general MORE (R-Texas) told reporters Wednesday he would support overturning sequestration. 

"[The] Armed Services Committee cannot solve that problem, but it needs to be solved and so working with others we’re going to do our best to try to solve it,” he said of the spending reductions.

 

TROOP BENEFITS STALL DEFENSE POLICY BILL: House and Senate lawmakers working on a compromise defense policy bill are hung up on proposed cuts to health and housing benefits for service members.

House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeonHoward (Buck) Philip McKeonTrump pick brings scrutiny to 'revolving door' between Pentagon, industry Bottom line Republican fighter pilot to challenge freshman Dem in key California race MORE (R-Calif.) doesn’t want the final bill to include measures that would boost out-of-pocket fees for Tricare, the health plan for military families, and require troops to pony up more for their housing, according to an aide.

Sen. Carl LevinCarl Milton LevinListen, learn and lead: Congressional newcomers should leave the extremist tactics at home House Democrats poised to set a dangerous precedent with president’s tax returns The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — White House to 'temporarily reinstate' Acosta's press pass after judge issues order | Graham to take over Judiciary panel | Hand recount for Florida Senate race MORE (D-Mich.), the retiring chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, though, is fighting to keep the two ideas in the final measure.

“There’s a few issues that are really important to our military leaders, including the Joint Chiefs, I’m going to keep fighting for,” he said.

Levin defended the proposals to reduce troop benefits, arguing they are backed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a means to rein in costs.

“They want very badly to take these small steps. They came in front of us, they argued very persuasively that we should do it,” he said. “I’m going to keep arguing that we should listen to the Joints Chief on this.”

 

WH MULLING ARMS TO UKRAINE: A top Obama adviser said Wednesday that the administration is considering lethal arms for Ukraine and said he believed it could deter Russia from further aggression against the Eastern European nation. 

Deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken acknowledged though that the administration has been reluctant to act, fearing that Russia could step up its support for armed separatists.

"Part of the reason has been that in our judgment, as much as we're able to throw at the Ukrainians in terms of lethal support, unfortunately if the Russians choose to, they will outmatch that easily," Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a hearing on his nomination for the No. 2 post at the State Department.

"That said, what we've seen in recent days and in recent weeks, including the blatant violation by Russia of the very agreement it's signed, the Minsk accords, [defensive lethal assistance] remains on the table. It's something that we're looking at," he added. 

Republican lawmakers are urging the president to consider providing Ukraine with lethal arms, over fears of a new build-up of Russian military forces along its border. Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March, and has been supporting pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine with military assistance. 

Although the U.S. has provided about $100 million in non-lethal military assistance, President Obama has so far been unwilling to provide Ukraine with weapons it has requested, over concerns it would further provoke Russia.

Blinken said he was sure the issue would be discussed during Vice President Joe Biden's trip to Ukraine this week. 

 

DRAMA IN DEM COMMITTEE CONTEST: Rep. Tim WalzTimothy (Tim) James WalzMinnesota program will pay homeowners to transform lawns into bee gardens as species inches closer to extinction Minnesota governor signs law making marital rape illegal New governors chart ambitious paths in first 100 days MORE's bid to be the top Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee sparked unexpected drama on Wednesday.

The Minnesota lawmaker challenged Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) for the seat being vacated by the outgoing Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine).

Brown had the advantage of seniority and the endorsement of top party leaders, while Walz, the highest-ranking enlisted soldier in congressional history, had backing from Michaud and veterans groups. 

However, Walz was only on the panel via waiver and the Democrats' Steering and Policy Committee blocked a motion to make him a permanent member so that he could run for the spot.

The motion was eventually withdrawn, leaving Walz's status temporarily unclear.

"The most unfortunate part was I just wanted to have an up-or-down vote. That’s asking little, and I certainly respect the caucus if they chose to go a different direction, but they never got to have that," Walz said.

"I never even got to make my case, in fact I never got invited into the room to speak. I think that part disappoints me, but we’ll keep advocating."

Late Wednesday, a spokesman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Walz had accepted an offer by her to serve on the panel in the 114th Congress as well as chair quarterly roundtables with veterans service organizations, which have been held regularly since 2006.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

— Top Dems see shot at ISIS vote slipping away

— Kerry meets top mediator as Iran deadline looms

— Top DOD intel official calls for cyber bill

— Senate, CIA face off over destroying emails

-- Only Dem 'no' vote on NSA explains himself

 

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