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Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By David S. Cloud Los An­ge­les staff writ­ers Christi Par­sons and Sarah Wire con­trib­uted. david.cloud@la­times.com

De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter vowed to re­solve Pen­tagon de­mands for sol­diers to re­pay en­list­ment bonuses as the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee an­nounced an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the re­pay­ment de­mands and House Speaker Paul Ryan called for the Pen­tagon to sus­pend the ef­forts.

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Barack Obama has told the De­fense Depart­ment to ex­pe­dite its re­view of nearly 10,000 Cal­i­for­nia Na­tional Guard sol­diers who have been or­dered to re­pay en­list­ment bonuses im­prop­erly given a decade ago, but he is not back­ing grow­ing calls for Congress to waive the debts, the White House said Tues­day.

The com­ments by White House spokesman Josh Earnest sug­gest the ad­min­is­tra­tion is run­ning into le­gal and pol­icy road­blocks as it strug­gles to han­dle a public re­la­tions headache for the Pen­tagon, the Na­tional Guard and mem­bers of Congress who were caught off guard by the scope of the prob­lem.

Ap­peals filed by some sol­ders to waive re­pay­ment of the bonuses, which fre­quently ex­ceeded $15,000 per sol­dier, have “dragged on for too long,” Earnest told re­porters in Bev­erly Hills, Calif., while Obama at­tended a fundraiser for Se­nate Democrats.

“We’re not go­ing to nickel and dime them when they get back, and we’re not go­ing to hold ser­vice mem­bers re­spon­si­ble un­fairly for un­eth­i­cal con­duct or fraud per­pe­trated by some­one else,” Earnest said.

But he said the pres­i­dent is not yet back­ing bi­par­ti­san calls in Congress to fully for­give the over­pay­ments, which re­cruiters awarded to meet their en­list­ment quo­tas, and are es­ti­mated to to­tal about $70 mil­lion.

“I don’t think he’s pre­pared to go that far at this point,” Earnest said, adding that “it might not be nec­es­sary to en­sure fair­ness.”

“His first pri­or­ity is mak­ing sure that our men and women in uni­form who signed up to fight for our safety over­seas are treated fairly when they come home. When we make a prom­ise to our men and women in the mil­i­tary, we need to keep it.”

The White House re­sponse came af­ter a Los An­ge­les Times re­port Satur­day said the Pen­tagon was de­mand­ing re­pay­ment of en­list­ment bonuses given to about 9,700 sol­diers between 2007 to 2009 as the Pen­tagon was scram­bling to fill its ranks. Many served mul­ti­ple com­bat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter said Tues­day that the re­pay­ment pro­gram “has got its com­plex­i­ties to it,” but the Pen­tagon is “go­ing to look into it and re­solve it.”

“Any­body who vol­un­teers to serve in the armed forces of the United States de­serves our grat­i­tude and re­spect, pe­riod,” Carter told re­porters in Paris on the side­lines of a meet­ing of counter-Is­lamic State coali­tion coun­tries.

Deputy De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert Work, the 2nd rank­ing of­fi­cial at the De­fense Depart­ment, con­vened a se­nior-level meet­ing at the Pen­tagon early Tues­day to ex­am­ine the re­pay­ments, of­fi­cials said.

The De­fense Depart­ment is look­ing at ways ap­peals “can be ex­pe­dited” for sol­diers “on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis,” but it can­not is­sue blan­ket for­give­ness of the debts, said Laura Ochoa, a Pen­tagon spokesper­son.

That may re­quire ac­tion by Congress, which en­gaged in fin­ger point­ing Tues­day.

Mem­bers of the Cal­i­for­nia del­e­ga­tion blamed Cal­i­for­nia Guard of­fi­cials in Sacra­mento for not alert­ing them to the scale of the prob­lem in 2014 when the GOP-led House con­sid­ered — but did not pass — a pro­vi­sion that would have al­lowed the de­fense sec­re­tary to waive the re­pay­ments.

But Cal­i­for­nia Guard of­fi­cials in­sisted they had in­formed Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers about the scale of the debts in 2014, telling them in a list of leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties that “thou­sands of sol­diers have in­ad­ver­tently in­curred debt, through no fault of their own be­cause of faulty Army re­cruit­ing or ac­count­ing prac­tices in­di­vid­u­als.”

The Cal­i­for­nia Guard also sent mem­bers of Congress a draft pro­vi­sion to be in­cluded in the 2015 de­fense au­tho­riza­tion bill to al­low debt waivers for the af­fected sol­diers.

CHARLES PLATIAU/REUTERS

De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter, cen­ter right, said Tues­day in Paris that the Pen­tagon will fix the re­pay­ment pro­gram.

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