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In review: Second session of 112th Congress

The second session of the 112th Congress convened on Jan. 3. Major issues on the agenda for both chambers included the deepening economic recession and the fiscal year (FY) 2012 and 2013 federal budgets. As of Dec. 7, The American Legion had participated in 20 congressional hearings during the second session.

Below are the major congressional actions that address Legion matters.

AMERICANISM

Since introduction in 2011, House Joint Resolution 13 and Senate Joint Resolution 19 – flag protection legislation – have failed to garner a great deal of support in Congress. After being assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, no hearings were held on either bill. The House bill has 91 co-sponsors and the Senate 37. The American Legion will continue to seek passage of a constitutional amendment to protect the American flag.

CHILDREN & YOUTH

A number of Legion-supported programs were funded by P.L. 112-175, the continuing resolution to fund the federal government for the first half of FY 2013. These included: $8.1 billion for the FBI; $2 billion for the Drug Enforcement Administration; $1.2 billion for the U.S. Marshals Service; $1.1 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance; $1.1 billion for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and $262 million for various state and local law enforcement and crime prevention grant programs aimed at combating juvenile delinquency and youth crime prevention.

ECONOMICS

On July 23, President Obama signed P.L. 112-147, the "Veterans Skills to Jobs Act." This law directs the heads of federal departments and agencies to treat military training as sufficient to satisfy training or certification requirements for federal license.

On Aug. 6, Obama signed P.L. 112-154, the "Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012." The following are provisions in the act related to economic issues:

  • Temporary expansion of VA’s program for specially adapted housing. Provisions include eligibility for specially adapted housing assistance grants for veterans with lower limb loss, as well as veterans with vision impairment.
  • Renewal of VA’s enhanced-use lease authority (expired December 2011), with increased oversight of the program and limiting leases to programs only serving homeless veterans.
  • Authority to grant funds for new construction of transitional housing for homeless veterans, as well as match funds from private and public sources for such housing, with annual reports from VA to Congress.
  • Requirement for VA to provide treatment and rehabilitation services to homeless veterans who are not considered seriously mentally ill. Additionally, male homeless veterans with minor dependents would be classified as special needs veterans to receive grants and per diem payments for services.
  • Continuation of VA assistance to veterans in specially adapted housing, who are receiving subsistence allowances, utilizing independent living services or VA home loans, or who are in receipt of VA-paid transportation, and are hindered or destroyed by a natural disaster.
  • Extension of VA’s authority to guarantee timely payment of principal and interest on pools of mortgage loans, and to collect loan fees and adjustments of maximum home loan guaranty amounts.
  • Requirement for the Department of Labor (DoL) to publish data for government contractors, indicating their record of hiring veterans.

On Aug. 16, Obama enacted P.L. 112-171, a measure which amends the Aviation and Transportation Security Act. It requires the Transportation Security Administration to comply with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act when carrying out certain personnel decisions with respect to the employment of air transportation passenger and property screeners.

Funding for DoL programs relating to veterans was contained in P.L. 112-175, signed by Obama on Sept. 28. Six-month funding for the Veterans Employment and Training Service is in the measure, totaling $263 million. Specific accounts include: $165 million for state administration grants; $35 million for federal administration costs; $9 million for the Transition Assistance Program; $2.4 million for the National Veterans’ Training Institute; $38 million for Homeless Veterans’ Assistance Programs; and $14 million for Veterans’ Workforce Investment Programs.

On Oct. 19, Obama signed P.L. 112-196, the "Military Commercial Driver’s License Act of 2012." The bill allows active duty military, military reserves, National Guard, active-duty Coast Guard or Coast Guard Auxiliary servicemembers to earn their commercial driver’s licenses in states where they are stationed. This allows servicemembers to utilize their military training for possible future civilian jobs.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Under P.L. 112-175, appropriations for the Department of State and Foreign Operations programs for FY 2013 were kept at the same level as were appropriated in FY 2012. Specific areas of interest to the Legion include: $8.1 billion in assistance to Global Health Programs; $3.1 billion in military assistance to Israel; $1.6 billion in economic and military aid to Egypt; $984 million for international narcotics control and law enforcement; $850 billion in counter-insurgency aid to Pakistan; $660 million in economic and military aid to Jordan; and $627 million in assistance for nations of Europe, Eurasia and Central Asia.

NATIONAL SECURITY

FY 2013 funding for DoD and DHS was contained in P.L. 112-175, the "Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013." This measure funds DoD and DHS operations at the same level of funding as the FY 2012 budget until March 27, 2013. DoD received about $520 billion for its programs and DHS received $40 billion. Further funding will be required for the balance of the fiscal year during the 113th Congress.

On Dec. 4, the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization bill (NDAA) passed by a vote of 98-0 in the Senate, the first time in 51 years that an NDAA bill passed unanimously.

The bill authorizes $631 billion in spending for the country’s defense. It would provide some $526 billion for the base defense budget, $17 billion for defense programs in the energy department and about $88 billion for the war in Afghanistan.

The Senate passed 145 amendments to the bill. A few include:

  • A new bipartisan, compromise Stolen Valor Act. The amendment clarifies that anyone who represents themselves for the purpose of tangible benefit or personal gain, as having been awarded any decoration, medal, ribbon or other device authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces, may be fined or imprisoned or both.
  • A provision restricting the president’s authority to transfer terror suspects from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to foreign countries.
  • A provision restricting the transfer of detainees held at Guantanamo to prisons in the United States.
  • A provision stating that the government may not detain a U.S. citizen or legal resident indefinitely without charge or trial.
  • An endorsement of the president’s timetable to withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
  • Stringent new sanctions on Iran’s energy and shipping sectors in a fresh attempt to hobble the Islamic republic’s economy and hamper its nuclear ambitions.

Program requests approved by the Senate included:

  • An across-the-board pay raise of 1.7 percent for all military personnel.
  • $9.1 billion for continued development of the F-35 fighter, including $6.1 billion for procurement of 29 planes.
  • Multi-year procurement of 10 additional DDG-51 (Arleigh Burke-class) destroyers.
  • Additional funding for procurement of a second Virginia-class attack submarine.

 VETERANS AFFAIRS & REHABILITATION

FY 2013 funding for VA was contained in P.L. 112-175, the "Continuing Appropriations Act of 2013." This measure funds military construction and VA operations at the same level of funding as the FY 2012 budget until March 27, 2013. VA received about $75.7 billion for its operations. Further funding will be required for the balance of the fiscal year during the upcoming 113th Congress.

On Oct. 5, Obama enacted P.L. 112-191, the "VA Major Construction Authorization and Expiring Authorities Extension Act of 2012." Provisions of this measure include:

  • Authorization for construction of a mental health building at the VA medical center (VAMC) in Seattle.
  • Authorization for construction of a spinal cord injury center at the VAMC in Dallas.
  • Authorization for renovation of the surgical suite and operating rooms at the VAMC in Miami.

Further, P.L. 112-191 provided a one-year extension of authority for VA to operate a VA regional office in Manila, Republic of the Philippines; provide treatment, rehabilitation and other services for mentally ill and homeless veterans; provide housing assistance for homeless veterans; continue VA’s Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans; and continue the performance of medical disability examinations by contract physicians.

On Nov. 27, Obama signed P.L. 112-198 legislation to provide a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of 1.7 percent for eligible veterans and dependents. The veterans COLA affects several benefits, including veterans’ service-connected disability compensation and dependency, and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. The COLA is designed to offset inflation and other factors that lead to the rising cost of living over time. It matches the annual increase provided to Social Security recipients and is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index.

 

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