VETERAN-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
On Wednesday September 21, National Commander Fang A. Wong appeared before a joint session of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees. His testimony presented The American Legion's legislative agenda for the next session of the 112th Congress. [Click here to read about Commander Wong's testimony.
Among the subjects Commander Wong highlighted in his statement were: better support for female veterans; reducing the disability claims backlog; and addressing veteran homelessness and unemployment. He stated, "The American Legion will always be at the forefront fighting for improvements to veteran employment." Commander Wong further stressed the need for passage of the "Veterans Opportunity to Work Act" (VOW), H.R. 2433 and S. 951. The House could vote on H.R. 2433 as early as the first week of October.
The House Veterans' Affairs Committee published a press release on the hearing on its website. [That press release can be accessed at the below link:http://veterans.house.gov/press-release/american-legion-joint-hearing-fo... .] In addition, a complete copy of Commander Wong's written testimony can be found on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee's website at the following link: http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings.cfm?action=release.display&relea...
In addition to Commander Wong's testimony, over 100 Legionnaires from across the country fanned out on Capitol Hill, visiting their elected congressional members. During their visits, these Legionnaires lobbied for their representatives and senators to pass various pieces of legislation which are awaiting action. [For a brief outline of those bills, please see the Legislative Drop Sheet at this link:http://www.legion.org/legislative/priority_sheets/159046/legislative-priority-sheet-09-21-2011
In addition to the Drop Sheet, the Legionnaires were given a number of point papers outlining - in greater detail - the various subjects contained on the Legislative Drop Sheet. Each point paper can be found at the below links:
LEGISLATIVE FOCUS FOR THE WEEK: Hearing on Strategic Minerals, U.S. Foreign Policy & National Security. On September 21, Deputy Legislative Director Dean Stoline attended a hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific. The subject of the hearing was "China's Monopoly on Rare Earths: Implications for U.S. Foreign and Security Policy". The purpose of the hearing was for the committee to receive testimony from a panel of American rare earth industry producers, users, and observers and hear their suggestions regarding what economic and strategic policies America should develop to protect these vital interests.
The panel recommended Congress:• Recognize rare earths are strategically important to the global economy and China is the predominant supplier at this time.• Recognize that China has publically stated that it has "no intention of remaining the world's major supplier of rare earths" and that it intends to shift its focus to using their rare earths in their domestic economy.• Recognize that as China makes this shift the American economy will also change; not only in the need to be concerned about where America's rare earths will come from, but also for the shift in jobs from America to China as it builds the end products for export that are now produced here domestically.
Key points that the panel thought should be part of America's policy are:• Understand the competitive nature of the global rare earth markets.• Develop an economic policy that uses domestic rare earths produced in this country strategically as China is doing and will keep these materials in this country; and the jobs that are created with their use as well.• Develop a recycling policy to reclaim rare earths that are used in end products and recycle these products rather than send these materials to landfills or incinerators.
Hearing on U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan, Iraq
On September 23, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing to receive the views of experts on the continuing American strategic objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq. The main witnesses at the hearing were Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.
Mr. Panetta, testifying for the first time in his role of Secretary of Defense, began his testimony by addressing budget issues. He stated that DOD is required to find $450 billion in savings over the next 5 years. However, he remained dedicated to maintaining the United States military as the strongest military in the world, and acknowledged that meeting both goals would require close scrutiny and tough decisions to avoid hollowing out the force. Secretary Panetta advocated for a balanced approach, with every area of the budget examined, and the elimination of redundancy, reduced overhead and increased efficacy. He emphasized his desire to "keep faith" with those who have served, and vowed to ensure that benefits would not be cut to those who have earned them. As for Iraq, the Defense Secretary testified that the current focus is on ending the war in a way that allows Iraq to be strong, independent and secure. He stated that though DOD's goal is total drawdown by the end of the year, the Iraqi leadership has expressed interest in having the U.S. maintain a training/mentoring role for Iraqi security forces. Panetta further stated that Iraq needs to focus on the establishment of security measures to address Iran, Al-Qaida elements in Iraq, and sectarian violence.
In Afghanistan, the Defense Secretary testified that we are on track to turn security over to the Afghan security forces by 2014. He stated that Al-Qaida has been severely damaged, the Taliban has been pushed back, and their recent shift away from tactical assaults to headline-grabbing attacks should be interpreted as a shift of balance in favor of coalition forces. Therefore, one of our major focuses should be to combat the perception that these attacks represent a general decrease in security. Secretary Panetta also stated that the eastern portion of the country remains problematic; he reiterated Chairman Levin and Sen. McCain's misgivings about the role which Pakistan is currently playing as a safe haven for terrorist operations in Afghanistan, as well as infrastructure and cultural difficulties represented by the region.
Admiral Mullen, in his final testimony as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, largely echoed many of the talking points touched on in Secretary Panetta's testimony. Those points included the issues posed by the Pakistan border in Afghanistan, the improving security situation, the progress in the training of Afghan security forces, the decreased number of insurgent attacks, and the shift to attack with psychological impact rather than strategic or tactical impact. His comments included a strongly-worded condemnation of what he claimed was official Pakistani policy involving support for the Haqqani network. He suggested that the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency utilizes the network as a direct arm, and blamed them for a September 10th assault on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, among other recent operations. He pointed out that a major issue in Afghanistan continues to be corruption in the government, which undermines the government's legitimacy in both the international community, as well as in the eyes of the Afghani people, and thereby has a destabilizing effect. He then addressed the possibility of a long term strategic training mission in Iraq, reiterating that no decision has been made, and there is much to consider in making such a decision.
In addition, The American Legion submitted a written statement for the record.
Legion Views on Arlington Cemetery Administration
The American Legion submitted testimony for the record regarding a hearing of the Joint Subcommittees on Oversight and Investigation of the House and Senate Armed Services committees receiving an update on the status of Arlington National Cemetery. While The American Legion has been appreciative of the management of the embattled cemetery by Director Kathryn Condon in the year since she took over in June of 2010, in terms of a long term solution the policy of the Legion is for administrative duties of the cemetery to be passed on to the VA's National Cemetery Administration (NCA). Director Condon has done a laudable job working to correct errors of the past, and uncover the full extent of the previous mismanagement, yet in the long term, the mission of managing the cemetery is more consistent with the mission of NCA than it is with DOD.
The American Legion strongly supports the retention of all ceremonial duties by the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, commonly called "The Old Guard," in recognition of their flawless commitment to perfection in the execution of those ceremonial duties and honors. However, the sooner the management can begin transition to NCA operation of the cemetery, the better. While the current staff at Arlington struggles to come up with new techniques and standard operating procedures, it should be noted these procedures are already in place at 131 National Cemeteries nationwide. NCA has a satisfaction rating of over 96 percent and is the most highly lauded administration in the federal government for the smooth execution of their duties.
American Legion Legislative staff is continuing to monitor the ongoing management of Arlington National Cemetery, and continue to try to work with Congress and the executive branch administration to find a solution for the nation's most famous cemetery that truly reflects the dignity and honor earned by those interred there.
Update on Flag Amendment Bills
Senator Orrin Hatch's (UT) office continues to solicit additional cosponsors for Senate Joint Resolution 19, a proposed constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from physical desecration. Its text states simply: "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." The cosponsor total for the Senate legislation stands at 27, with the recent addition of Sen. Mike Crapo (ID).
To date, H.J. Res. 13 - the House companion to the Senate measure - has accumulated 59 cosponsors, with the recent additions of Reps. Mike Rogers (AL), and Steve Womack (AR). Please contact your representatives' and senators' offices, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers. If they are already cosponsors, be sure to thank them for their support.
Update on American Legion Charter Legislation
H. R. 2369, the bill to amend the charter of The American Legion is posted on THOMAS, the Library of Congress tracking website for Congressional legislation and can be found here: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/D?d112:1:./temp/~bdQlUS:@@@N|/home/LegislativeData.php|
The bill amends the charter to clarify statutorily the autonomous, independent nature of our posts and departments. It would also facilitate credit card processing of online membership renewals. The bill is in the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives awaiting action. This week The American Legion sent a ‘request to cosponsor' letter to all members of the House who have not yet joined with the 280 representatives currently supporting our bill. Please write your representative and ask for swift passage of this legislation in the House when they return in September.
What has the super-committee done so far?
After an organizational meeting on September 8, the first formal hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction took place on September 13. This meeting examined "The History and Drivers of Our Nation's Debt and Its Threat." The director of the Congressional Budget Office made the main presentation.
On September 22, the super-panel examined "Revenue Options and Reforming the Tax Code." Lawmakers on the super-committee from both parties said they agreed the U.S. corporate tax rate should be lowered from its current maximum of 35 percent. However, there was little agreement at the panel meeting on which benefits in the tax code should be eliminated or curbed to pay for lowering the corporate rate. Also, the lawmakers didn't indicate that the panel would produce legislation by Nov. 23 that would push corporate rates lower.
"Most people do agree that such high tax rates make the United States a less attractive place in which to do business," said Sen. Patty Murray (WA), the Democratic co-chairman of the panel. "Instead of making and improving their widgets or hiring new people," she said, businesses "spend too much time and effort devising business strategies aimed simply at tax avoidance."
The panel's first hearing on tax policy reflected a broader debate between Democrats and Republicans over the role of revenue in reducing the U.S. budget deficit. Rep. James Clyburn (SC), urged adoption of new taxes for millionaires while the panel's Republican co-chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (TX), warned against new taxes. If lawmakers on the super-committee "choose to solely or primarily address our debt crisis by increasing the nation's tax burden, I fear the consequences," he said. "The ability, wisdom and consequences of addressing our debt crisis through tax increases will continue to constitute a rigorous debate by our committee."