VETERAN-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
After being in session throughout the past weekend, the House of Representatives and Senate both adjourned for the summer work period in their home states or districts. The House went into recess on August 1 and the Senate the next day. Discussion of the debt ceiling-budget reduction took up much of Congress' agenda.
The Senate is in recess until September 6 and the House is in recess until September 7. The chambers will have pro-forma sessions every three days so that President Obama cannot make recess appointments.
Debt Ceiling Deal Creates "Supercommittee"
"Look; up on Capitol Hill! It's an ad hoc committee!"
"It's a permanent select committee!"
The weeks of negotiations leading up to the final resolution (signed by the President on August 2 as Public Law 112-25) brought one result that could have significant repercussions on veterans programs. One of the provisions of the new law would create what has been semi-seriously called a "supercommittee." This new 12-member body would be given the task of examining the federal budget, determining an initial number of programs targeted for $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years in funding reductions - or even outright elimination - and presenting this list to both congressional chambers for approval. The current timetable looks like this:
• Supercommittee members are appointed by August 16;• Regular congressional committees can recommend cuts to the supercommittee by October 14;• Supercommittee report by November 23;• Congress votes on supercommittee report by December 23.
But if the committee fails to present a deficit-reduction package by November 23 - the day before Thanksgiving - or if Congress deadlocks and fails to pass the plan or enacts less than $1.2 trillion in cuts by December 23, across-the-board spending cuts would be triggered to make up the difference between the committee number and the $1.2 trillion savings goal. Those automatic cuts would largely affect defense spending, a top priority for Republicans, and Medicare, a favorite program of Democrats, creating a strong incentive for both parties to reach a deal and pass the bill. Yet in both the $1.2 trillion "trigger" and the $900 billion original cut, the VA budgets have not been exempted. Despite this, most agree it will be difficult if not impossible to cut the VA budgets.
The American Legion will watch the events involving this "supercommittee" very carefully. Often with your help, past congressional attempts to limit or eliminate veterans' programs in the past have been successfully rebuffed.
LEGISLATIVE FOCUS FOR THE WEEK: Update on American Legion Charter Legislation. H. R. 2369, the bill to amend the charter of The American Legion is now posted on THOMAS, the Library of Congress tracking website for Congressional legislation and can be found here: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.2369:
The bill amends the charter of The American Legion 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. It currently has 196 cosponsors. Please write your representative and ask for swift passage of this legislation in the House.
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 now stands at twenty-four.
To date, H.J. Res. 13 - the House companion to the Senate measure - has accumulated 54 cosponsors. 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.
Letters of Support
On July 22, The American Legion sent a letter to Rep. Lloyd Doggett (TX), supporting a draft bill entitled the "Wounded Veteran Job Security Act." This measure would amend title 38, United States Code, to provide for the reemployment of certain persons following absences from a position of employment for the purpose of obtaining medical treatment for certain injuries and illnesses. This draft legislation, if enacted, will prohibit discrimination and acts of reprisal against persons who receive treatment for illnesses, injuries, and disabilities incurred in or aggravated by service in the uniformed services. It was the intent of Congress by enacting USERRA that no veteran be denied employment, reemployment, advancement or discrimination in employment for serving their country. Service members who honorably defend this country depend on USERRA to protect their civilian jobs when they are activated and sent to war. This amendment to USERRA will enhance that protection.
On August 2, The American Legion sent a joint letter to the Sen. Tim Johnson (ND) and Rep. John Culberson (TX), chairmen of the respective and Senate Appropriations subcommittees which have jurisdiction over funding for the VA. The letter urged the chairmen to support the spending figure for VA's Medical and Prosthetic Research account as contained in the Senate-passed version of H.R. 2055, the FY 2012 appropriations measure for Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies. The Senate bill would fund this account at $581 million - an amount equal to the current year's funding level - while the House-approved version would fund this research account at only $531 million.
On August 3, The American Legion sent a letter to House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (FL) supporting H.R. 2433, the "Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011," or the VOW Act. This measure would make improvements relating to veterans' employment and training. It would provide a time-limited educational benefit to unemployed veterans aged 35 to 60 at community colleges and technical training schools. It would make improvements to the Transitional Assistance Program (TAP) and ease regulatory impediments to licensing and certification.
American Legion National Legislative Council
The Legislative Division continues the task of compiling the National Legislative Council Annual Activities Report for 2010-2011. The forms were emailed to each Department Vice Chairman in mid-July. NEC Resolution No. 28, passed October 19-20, 1994 reads in part: each National Vice Chairman of the Legislative Council shall submit an annual report on the Council member activities in his/her Department to the National Legislative Council Chairman not later than July 31 each year.
As of now, there are 5 Departments remaining that need to return their Council Annual Activities Report - Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma, and Oregon. Departments are urged to complete their report and return it to the Legislative Division as soon as possible.
On another front, the Legislative Division continues the process of rebuilding the council for the 112th Congress and obtaining current NLC Information Sheets. There are still 20 vacancies on the council in various Departments and 175 info sheets outstanding. All Departments, NECmen, and Vice Chairmen were sent the current status of their respective councils in a recent email. Please understand that until an info sheet has been received from a nominee, their appointment to the council has not been finalized. As such, these persons may not be receiving this Weekly Update or our Action Alerts, thus hindering our influence on the passage or defeat of federal legislation based on the Legion's priority goals. We understand many nominees have submitted these info sheets in past years, but it is required every two years in order that we may be assured our contact information is current. The form can be quickly and conveniently completed by clicking on the following link and filling out the web form on the Legion's webpage: http://www.legion.org/legislative/councilinfo.
Departments are advised that the vast majority of our communication with the council is conducted by email. We stress the necessity of council members having email capability not only because it saves time and money, but more importantly, because speed is often of the essence in reacting to changing legislative situations on the many issues that arise so quickly on Capitol Hill. Email provides council members and our grassroots activists with a timely and accurate communications medium in which they can immediately support our issues when called upon by a legislative alert.
For those council nominees without email who have yet to return info sheets, we plan another round of mailings through traditional mail in the near future. An accompanying cover letter will both state the necessity of email capability and request an email address of some sort be provided, for example through their post.
The importance of the Legislative Council cannot be minimized. It is the voice of The American Legion family, and the way in which members of Congress can be quickly contacted when legislative action is needed. Council members are relied upon to establish and maintain a relationship with their legislators, as well as to keep their lawmakers informed about key veterans' issues and educate them on the Legion's legislative agenda.
It would be helpful to understand some of the details of the VA budget in order to more thoughtfully discuss it with legislators, our post members and the public at large. For example: What is the difference between the Major Construction Budget and the Minor Construction Budget?
The simple answer to this question is that Major Construction projects are those which cost $10 million or more. Until 2008, the cutoff number was $7 million, while in 2004 the threshold was $4 million. Major construction projects would include, but are not limited to:
• Building new or replacement VA Medical Centers (VAMCs);
• Major additions to VAMCs, such as a new wing, or expansion of existing operating areas;
• Making major repairs or upgrades, such as making VAMCs safer in areas of major seismic activities; and,
• Land acquisition or gravesite expansion for various National Cemetery Administration projects.
Minor construction projects would include constructing, altering, extending, and improving any of the facilities under the jurisdiction or for the use of the VA, including planning, assessment of needs, architectural and engineering services, and site acquisition, where such projects cost less than $10 million.
We'll be happy to address more clarification of the VA budget in our upcoming point papers and discussions.