(CNN) - It was a single line in a Republican debate focused mostly on domestic issues, but former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's suggestion that the U.S. borrow less from China, pull back some on humanitarian aid and push China to give more instead got the attention of the audience in the hall.
The comment came during a heated discussion about spending cuts at Tuesday's night's presidential debate in Nevada sponsored by CNN and the Western Republican Leadership Conference.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Department of Veterans Affairs is still struggling with an enormous backlog in claims for medical and educational benefits that are piling up despite efforts to diminish the paperwork, the secretary of the department admitted Wednesday.
The VA has implemented an electronic records system, but faces a flood of medical claims each month. In July alone, the VA processed 92,000 claims, but another 91,200 came in. The department has 400,000 claims in the works, with more than a quarter of them left unprocessed for more than 125 days.
"Regardless of how we parse the numbers, there is a backlog. It is too big and veterans are waiting too long for decisions," said Eric Shinseki, secretary of veterans affairs, in his opening statement to the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday.
Shinseki was pressed on the backlog by Rep. Debbie Halvorson, D-Illinois, who asked about the problem of many claims having to be resubmitted. The secretary said it was a problem of trust between veterans and the department that he was trying to change, making every employee an "advocate" for veterans.
"What I mean by advocacy is that when Shinseki walks in and says 'I want to put a claim in,' my intent is to put together the very best claim the first time with a very high probability of success," Shinseki responded. "Whatever is there right now is what we are addressing. It is a change in culture. It is a change in attitude."
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The intrigue surrounding Gen. Stanley McChrystal's plans for Afghanistan is making him a popular man on Capitol Hill. But for now, Congress is going to have to wait to talk to the top commander in Afghanistan.
McChrystal's plans for turning the tide in Afghanistan have been turned in to his bosses at the Pentagon and to President Barack Obama, but little has been shared yet with those on the Hill. So they want to talk to the man...now.
"What I support right now is getting Gen. McChrystal here to help us all understand what the situation on the ground is and what the strategy for success in Afghanistan is," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The head of the House Armed Services Committee wrote a letter to the Defense secretary requesting McChrystal come talk.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Pentagon expressed disappointment that the Senate departed for a month-long August recess without finalizing the nomination of the Secretary of the Army.
On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services committee approved the nomination for Rep. John McHugh to become the new Army Secretary and Joseph Westphal to be his undersecretary.
The nominations were sent to the full Senate for a vote which did not come to pass because Kansas senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts put a "hold" on the nominations. The two Republican senators made the parliamentary move on Thursday because they want the administration to give them information about reported plans to transfer Guantanamo detainees to jails in Kansas or Michigan.
"The Senators requested either assurance that Leavanworth, Kansas was not an option or answer" to questions about the reported plans, according to a statement put out by the senators' offices.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Barack Obama is getting the help of his former political rival in seeking to stop a defense program his administration no longer believes is necessary, but some in Congress want to continue.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who ran against Obama in the 2008 presidential election, wants to remove funding for constructing seven more F-22 jets.
The program is included in the Senate's defense authorization bill even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he opposes building any more of the planes. The White House said it would veto a bill that funded more of the jets.
On Monday, McCain and Senate Armed Services committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan) introduced an amendment to strip the funds from the bill. The Armed Services committee, on which McCain serves, approved the amendment.
"Neither the president nor the Pentagon asked for F-22s or the alternate engine in the budget request," McCain said Monday on the Senate floor. "Secretary Gates has consistently opposed the need for additional F-22 aircraft and has indicated on a number of occasions that additional F-22 aircraft are not required to meet potential threats posed by near-term adversaries."
McCain even tweeted about his opposition to his followers on Twitter, saying he was "fighting the good fight."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday the United States could defend itself against a missile should the North Koreans launch one toward Hawaii.
Japanese media reported Thursday that the North Koreans are preparing to make such a launch.
Gates said U.S. officials are watching the situation carefully.
"We do have some concerns if they were to launch a missile" toward Hawaii, he told reporters.
But with missile interceptors and radar equipment in the region, "we are in a good position should it become necessary to protect the American territory," Gates said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Defense Secretary Robert Gates Thursday reluctantly supported the release of the government documents regarding interrogation techniques.
Gates, who used to be CIA director, said he realized that despite his and others' concerns about protecting the CIA agents involved, the documents would inevitably be released.
"The things that I was concerned about was first and foremost the protection of the CIA officers who were involved in the interrogations and who performed their duties in accordance with the legal guidance that they had been given by the Justice Department. I wanted to make sure, I felt strongly, the importance that they be protected," Gates told reporters during a tour of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina where he was watching Marines prepare for deployment to Afghanistan.
Gates said he was also concerned with the "potential backlash" in the Middle East and in the war zones. He said the release might have a negative impact on the troops.
But Gates said with all the congressional investigations being released and lawsuits, the release of the memos was going to happen.
"There is a certain inevitability that much of this will eventually come out," Gates said. "Pretending that we could hold all this and keep it all a secret, even if we wanted to, I think was probably unrealistic."
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Defense Department will pay for families of fallen soldiers to travel to Dover Air Force Base to be present for the return of their deceased family member, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Wednesday.
The announcement comes as the Pentagon prepares to allow the media to record the return of fallen soldiers from overseas at Dover, if the families of the troops permit it.
The media has been prevented from doing so since 1989.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – The military will phase out its "stop-loss" program - the controversial practice of holding troops beyond their enlistment dates - for all but extraordinary situations, Defense Secretary Roberts Gates announced on Wednesday.
The military will use incentive programs to encourage extending service. Soldiers who have been extended already will get a monthly payment of $500, retroactive to the date Congress passed the law to pay them.
The stop-loss program was put into place to ensure that units deployed fully. Those whose enlistment dates were to end in the middle of their unit's deployment could have their tour prolonged.
Currently, the Army is the only service that uses the stop-loss program. As of January 2009, 13,217 soldiers had tours extended under the policy.
The Army also used the stop-loss policy during Operation Desert Shield, and after September 11.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Leaders from 11 veterans groups were conferring Wednesday afternoon with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel on the Obama administration's plan to charge private insurers fortreatment of veterans' service-connected ailments.
Veterans' representatives and members of Congress have angrily opposed the proposal, which White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said is not finalized.
On Monday, the groups met with President Obama, Emanuel, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Steven Kosiak, director in charge of defense spending for the Office of Management and Budget.
The administration sees the plan as a way of raising more than $500 million in revenues for the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, veterans groups see it is a violation of the government's moral obligation to treat veterans injured during service to their country.