1. Defense Budget: Hagel Defends Pentagon’s Budget Request
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel defended the Pentagon’s $526.6 billion 2014 budget before a skeptical House Armed Services Committee Thursday during his first congressional hearing as Pentagon chief.
Hagel faced questions on the $150 billion reduction to defense spending over the next decade, on plans to close bases and on how the Pentagon is dealing with sequestration.
The secretary fended off questions about whether he accepted the cuts to the Pentagon under sequestration, saying that he had to deal with the reality of sequestration.
On Wednesday the Pentagon unveiled details of Obama’s belated $527 billion base defense budget for next fiscal year. But lawmakers on the left and right savaged the document for days leading up to the public unveiling, seeing the spending guidelines as little more than a fiscal fantasy.
Experts noted that the proposed budget:
Ignores deep sequestration cuts mandated by federal law, which if left unchanged, would slash almost $52 billion — nearly 10 percent — from the numbers issued Wednesday.
Lacks any real look at war spending for 2014, instead penciling in the request from last year as a placeholder.
Includes another round of domestic base closings and increases in health care fees for military retirees — both political nonstarters on Capitol Hill.
Further reading on the FY14 budget and the process going forward:
2. Second Amendment: Senate Moves Forward on Gun Control Bill
The Senate voted to move forward on gun control Thursday, clearing the first of what is expected to be many 60-vote hurdles for the legislation.
In a 68-31 vote, the Senate approved a procedural motion that will allow debate on the Democratic measure to begin. Sixty votes were required for approval.
Sixteen Republicans voted in favor of the motion, while two Democrats — both from states President Obama lost in the 2012 election — voted against it. The two Democrats were Sens. Mark Begich (Alaska) and Mark Pryor (Ark.), both of whom face reelection next year.
The Senate bill would expand background checks on gun purchases, crack down on straw purchasers of guns and beef up security in schools.
Immediately after the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reiterated that the first amendment to be considered for the bill will be a deal on background checks worked out by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Toomey. Amendments to the bill are expected to need 60 votes for passage.
Read more: http://thehill.com/blogs/floor-action/senate/293283-in-vote-senate-moves...
On Tuesday, staff attended the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. Pacific Command (PACCOM) and U.S. Forces Korea. An archived webcast of the proceedings can be viewed here: http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings/event.cfm?eventid=2071a73c...
On Thursday, staff attended the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the Pentagon’s FY14 Defense Authorization Request. An archived webcast of the proceedings can be viewed here: http://armedservices.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2
1. Asia – Pacific: Kerry Reiterates Support in South Korea
Secretary of State John Kerry dismissed North Korea's continuing threats (Reuters) of war as "unacceptable by any standard" after meeting with South Korean President Park Geun-hye in Seoul, and said that Washington would never accept the possibility of Pyongyang becoming a nuclear power. Despite weeks of war cries from the North, there were no indications of military movement (AP) in North Korea as the country celebrated a string of national anniversaries this week. Meanwhile, a new assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded for the first time with "moderate confidence" that Pyongyang is capable (NYT) of making a nuclear weapon small enough to be delivered by a ballistic missile.
"North Korea watchers say the current escalation, particularly the recent threat of a ballistic-missile test, has as much or even more to do with internal affairs as its external concerns. Young and relatively untested, Kim is likely looking for ways to consolidate his own power and safeguard his family's legacy. Next week, he may try to do both," write Emily Rauhala for TIME.
"Neither America nor China wants a war. Both seem to regard Kim Jong-un as an unhinged teenager who needs to be back on his meds. But in the long run, America worries more about a nuclear-armed North Korea. China worries about the country's collapse," writes The Economist.
"Kerry will likely urge China to rein in Pyongyang, enforce sanctions against Iran, and cooperate on curtailing cyberterrorism. But for Washington to maximize the gains from Kerry's visit, it has to accord China's interests more respect," writes Shen Dingli for Foreign Policy.
2. Keystone XL Pipeline
On Tuesday, staff submitted the Legion’s public comment on the Keystone XL pipeline to the State Department. A copy of the letter can be found here: KXL Public Comment.pdf
3. POW/MIA Update
President Obama on Thursday presented the Medal of Honor to a hero of the Korean War, an Army chaplain from Kansas who provided spiritual and medical aid to soldiers in the conflict.
In a moving ceremony in the East Room of the White House, the president awarded the nation’s highest military award to a nephew of Capt. Emil Kapaun, who died in captivity more than 60 years ago, saying that the Kansas native was ‘an American soldier who didn’t fire a gun, but who (carried) the mightiest weapon of all: the love for his brothers so powerful that he was willing to die so that they might live.’
The Roman Catholic priest, who even in a North Korean POW camp cut up his blanket to make socks for his fellow prisoners, died in captivity in 1951 at the age of 35 at the prison camp in Pyoktong, near the Chinese border.
Director, National Security / Foreign Relations Division