Question:On July 8, the U.S. government began to furlough millions of Americans. What is The American Legion doing about that?
The American Legion, by resolution, calls for the full funding of The Department of Defense (DoD) and adamantly opposes sequestration (http://archive.legion.org/bitstream/handle/123456789/2316/2012F055.pdf?s...). We also successfully lobbied for advance appropriations for most of the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) budget, and are currently working with both chambers of Congress to add the remaining VA accounts to the advance appropriations process as well; we will be testifying in support of this on Wednesday, the 17th of July.
As you are aware, furloughs are a result of sequestration – an automatic spending reduction triggered by Congress’ inability to agree on a strategy to deal with the national debt in fiscal year 2011, when the United States, again, hit its congressionally set debt ceiling. During this time, The American Legion intensely lobbied the Super Committee, a group of senators and congressional representatives selected by their respective chamber leaders to come up with a plan to avoid sequestration, in attempts to protect our veterans and military community members Ultimately, the Super Committee failed to produce any plan that Congress was willing to support. http://archive.legion.org/bitstream/handle/123456789/2222/2012N061.pdf?s...
Following several last-minute legislative attempts at avoiding sequestration, which included automatic spending caps, automatic budget cuts eventually went into effect as a result of the Budget Control Act (BCA). The BCA was specifically designed to hurt, and that perceived pain was supposed to be an incentive for lawmakers to come up with a comprehensive plan to reduce the national debt, so that we could avoid raising the debt ceiling and, instead, reduce spending so that American tax receipts could be used to fund the business of running the Unites States. We are already burdened with paying $350 billion interest in 2013 on our national debt. http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/ir/ir_expense.htm
Getting back to furloughs, The American Legion is disappointed that DoD has chosen to use them as a way to comply with the BCA, as have several other federal agencies. But we are pleased that we were successfully able to protect VA and most veterans funding from being affected. In sequestration, most veterans benefits and programs are protected from spending reductions, but still will be subjected to future spending caps. As you can imagine, this is a very complicated discussion, and The American Legion addressed this in its testimony before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs last April while discussing the President’s budget plan for FY 2014. Incidentally, neither the Senate, House, nor the President’s proposed budgets recognized the BCA spending caps, so ultimately we are left with no plan that formally addresses sequestration, or an agreed-upon budget that will be heading to the President for signature any time soon.
So, what has The American Legion done to protect Americans from being furloughed? Plenty. How successful have we been with regard to sequestration? Very. Can we prevent furloughs? Unfortunately, not – but you can. Become active with The American Legion, and when election time comes around, remember to hold your lawmakers responsible for their work to protect Americans from sequestration and subsequent furloughs. We will continue to supply you with relevant information through our weekly Legislative Update, and will always be available to work with our Commissions as they develop strong, effective resolutions.