VETERAN-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
The House returned from recess this week, while at the same time the Senate went out for recess.
There were signs that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (JSC, aka the "Supercommittee") was beginning to show the strain from the mountains of suggestions and the looming deadline imposed upon it. While the panel continues it work to develop a plan to reduce the federal deficit between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion over the next decade, there are reports that the Republican and Democrat members are deadlocked over including other ways to reduce the deficit. These suggestions include entitlement reform (a Republican suggestion) and increased tax revenue (a Democrat proposal). The JSC has a deadline of November 23 to present its plan to both congressional chambers. Whether its recommendations will be accepted or not is highly debatable. The American Legion will continue to closely monitor the JSC's deliberations.
In a related area, Congress is still trying to develop a plan to finish the FY 2012 appropriations process. Only one funding bill - the Military Construction-VA spending measure - has passed both House and Senate. During the month of September, the Senate Appropriations Committee went into a frenzy of activity. Between September 7 and 21, the panel approved 10 of the 11 spending bills which it had not previously approved. The Senate leadership is attempting to develop a bill combining three of the appropriations measure - being termed a "minibus" as opposed to an omnibus - as a way to get the ball rolling on the badly stalled appropriations process.
LEGISLATIVE FOCUS FOR THE WEEK: Dedication of the Jewish Chaplain's Memorial at Arlington. On October 24th, members of The American Legion legislative team attended the dedication of the Jewish Chaplain's memorial on Chaplain's Hill in Arlington National Cemetery. The project, the brainchild of Son's of the American Legion member Ken Kraetzer, was also called for by a resolution passed at the 2010 national convention. In May, the House voted for the measure. The Senate followed up shortly thereafter. Monday's dedication brings to an end a long journey to recognize the 14 Jewish chaplains that have died on active duty. A number of speakers noted without the efforts and leadership of The American Legion family, this monument may have never become reality.
Armed Services Panel Holds Hearing on National Defense Industry
On October 24, the Legislative team attended a House Armed Services Committee panel talk entitled, "The Defense Industrial Base: A National Security Imperative". The purpose was to hear witnesses' viewpoints on business challenges within the defense industry.
Barry Watts, Senior Fellow from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, stated the country needs a ‘long-term strategy for sustaining design and production capabilities in a small number of industrial areas. [He limited his remarks to major defense acquisition programs and prime contractors rather than discussing the broader aspects (i.e. smaller companies and subcontractors) of the Defense Industrial Base (DIB).]
Mr. Watts thought defense firms may be at risk unless the DIB and the US government did some fundamental restructuring as the Department of Defense's relies on normal market forces to make adjustments to the defense industrial base. However, he said the DIB has only one buyer - the US government, and there are only a few suppliers due to industry consolidation. He said with the decline in defense spending the question should be not what to cut, but what to keep. This question is the strategic issue Congress and the Pentagon should answer in coping with declining defense spending.
Frederick M. Downey, Vice President of National Security for the Aerospace Industries Association, stated recent analysis shows the job loss of the first part of the Budget Control Act will be approximately 432,000. If the super committee fails to reach an agreement, or if further cuts occur due to sequestration, job loss will increase to just over 1 million workers. Approximately one third of the lost jobs will be in the defense industry and supply chain. The remaining two thirds of lost jobs will be in areas such as retail, construction, health care, education and arts and entertainment. But it's not just jobs we will lose; the industry will lose valuable technicians, engineers, and scientists.
Armed Services Committee on Military Retirement Changes
On October 25 the Legislative team attended a House Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Military Personnel hearing on Military Retirement Reform. The purpose of this hearing was to hear views on the Defense Business Board's (DBB's) proposal to shift the military to a "contributory" retirement plan from the current plan. There were two witnesses from the Department of Defense and two from military service organizations.
Chairman Joe Wilson (SC) opened the hearing by saying the DBB plan was "radical" and was released publicly without due regard for the impact it would have on troop morale in wartime. The DBB report called the current retirement system unsustainable and increasingly unaffordable.
Witness Jo Ann Rooney, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said "the department [Department of Defense (DOD)] acknowledges the military retirement system appears expensive [but] it is neither unaffordable nor spiraling out of control as some would contend." Ms Rooney said DOD has been studying ways to revise retirement, in part because the national debt crisis is requiring defense spending cuts. She said the study weighs the impact of a new system on recruiting and retention, considers the welfare of individual servicemembers and families, includes grandfathering existing forces, and acknowledges our responsibilities to the taxpayer.
Chairman Wilson expressed disappointment to Ms Rooney that Secretary of Defense Panetta didn't disavow the findings. But he also suggested DBB members made a very controversial proposal with immediate negative consequences for morale and combat readiness and they should be willing to come before his subcommittee and defend their report. Ms Rooney replied the DBB report was only one "data point" in the ongoing review of alternative plans.
Witness Vee Penrod, deputy assistant secretary for military personnel policy, said computer modeling on the DBB plan done so far shows if adopted it would have a negative impact on force retention.
Two witnesses testified for preserving the current plan, both for the current force and future generations. They were The Military Coalition, a group of 34 associations and service organizations represented by Steve Strobridge, director of government relations for Military Officers Association of America, and John Davis, director of legislative programs for Fleet Reserve Association.
Witness Davis reminded Representative Davis that the purpose of the military is to fight wars and that remains "a young man or woman's profession" and the retirement system should reflect that.
Letters of Support
On October 21, The American Legion sent a letter to Rep. Randy Forbes (VA), thanking him for his introduction of House Resolution (H.Res.) 441, entitled the "Strong Defense, Strong America" resolution. Though a non-binding resolution, this bill reflects almost exactly Resolution #1 passed at the Fall 2011 NEC meeting by stating, "further cuts to our nation's Defense budget represent a significant threat to our national security...working together we can ensure that the security needs of this great nation are not sacrificed on the altar of short term fiscal panic."
I read about The American Legion’s opposition to HR2061 and I’m very upset you would take a stance denying a flag to federal employees. Please change your position on this matter.
This email was one of many emails we received in the past week. All of them expressed opposition to our actions relating to HR2061. Based on the timing of the emails, we can only assume they read about our opposition in the most recent issue of the NARFE magazine. Unfortunately the magazine never contacted us and therefore misquoted Commander Wong and didn't get the facts entirely straight. Moreover, because of deadlines on the printing of the magazine, they missed an important fact, The American Legion is now supporting a revised HR2061.
The American Legion was concerned with the language that was being considered within HR2061 because it equated service in the military to employment in the federal workforce, it inadequately defined eligible next of kin and the manner in which a flag would be presented, and it allowed for presentation of flags to a wide variety of federal employees and volunteers under a wide range of circumstances. The American Legion has always supported the flag code which allows for such a flag presentation. We were concerned with the language of the bill, and thankfully its sponsors, Representative Hanna and Chairman Issa both agreed. In fact, when meeting with Commander Wong last month, Representative Hanna expressed his thanks for our assistance in rewriting the bill. He was "glad we opposed the bill and took time to make it right."
Last week, we officially signed off on the revisions made to HR2061. We anticipate it will come up for a vote in the House in the coming weeks. We support the overall intention of this bill and are glad Representatives Issa and Hanna took the time to make sure it was a well written piece of legislation.