VETERAN-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
The House of Representatives and Senate have both adjourned for the summer work period in their home states or districts. The Senate is in recess until September 6, while the House will return on September 7. Both chambers have pro-forma sessions every three days so that President Obama cannot make recess appointments.
House, Senate Leadership Make "Supercommittee" Appointments
The passage of Public Law 112-25 created a complex structure for Congress to attack the burgeoning national debt, hopefully slash runaway federal spending, and eventually yield a balanced budget. One of the provisions of the new law created a "Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction," but has been dubbed the "supercommittee" by the media. This new 12-member body will examine the federal budget, determining an initial number of programs targeted for between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion in funding reductions over the next 10 years. There is also the likelihood that outright elimination of programs may occur. After deliberating, the "supercommittee" will present this package of cuts and/or reductions to both congressional chambers for approval by November 23. 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;
If the committee fails to present a deficit-reduction package by its deadline, 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.
As of August 10, the following congressional members have been appointed to the committee:Senate Republicans: Jon Kyl (AZ), Rob Portman (OH), Pat Toomey (PA)House Republicans: Dave Camp (MI), Jeb Hensarling (TX), Fred Upton (MI)Senate Democrats: Max Baucus (MT), Patty Murray (WA), John Kerry (MA)House Democrats: Xavier Becerra (CA), James Clyburn (SC), Chris Van Hollen (MD)The supercommittee is co-chaired by Senator Murray and Representative Hensarling.
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 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 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 196 representatives currently supporting our bill. We also sent "Thank You" letters to the present cosponsors. Please write your representative and ask for swift passage of this legislation in the House when they return in September.
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, 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.
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 3 Departments remaining that need to return their Council Annual Activities Report - Connecticut, Illinois, and Oklahoma. 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 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, under State Veterans' Cemeteries Construction Grants, the President and Congress are talking about $46 million, while The American Legion is asking for $60 million. What would that additional $14 million do?
VA's State Cemetery Grants Program complements VA's 131 national cemeteries across the country. The program helps states establish, expand, or improve state veterans' cemeteries. To date, this VA program has helped establish 73 veterans' cemeteries in 38 states, Saipan and Guam, with three more under construction in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. These cemeteries provided more than 25,000 burials In FY 2008. Since the program began in 1980, VA has awarded 174 grants totaling $340 million.
The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) received $46 million for the 2011 fiscal year, an increase of $4 million over FY 2010. There is no truly scientific way of determining an "average cost" to build a new State Cemetery or to expand an existing one. Many factors influence cost, such as location, size, and the availability of public utilities.
In 2009, the NCA grant authority was expanded to allow for grants to establish tribal cemeteries and operational grants to renovate and rehabilitate existing cemeteries. Despite this expansion of authority, there was no increase in funding. Because of this, a project backlog has begun where states and tribal entities must wait several years before receiving a grant from the NCA.
One might argue that in these economic times, having to wait a few years to establish a new cemetery is a minor inconvenience. However, few will argue that repair and renovation of a run-down cemetery, realignment of headstones, and other projects that preserve the sanctity of our veterans' final resting place can be delayed - especially if it's the cemetery your friend or family member is interred within.
The American Legion remains committed to working with the states, tribal entities, and NCA to carefully review the existing financial needs of this program and adequately fund it for the betterment of all veterans and their family members. In this collaborative manner, we can forever memorialize the final resting places of those who served.