VETERAN-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
The House of Representatives was in session this week, returning on January 17. The Senate is scheduled to return from its holiday break next Monday, January 23.
On Wednesday, January 18, the House of Representatives approved by a 239-176 vote a resolution disapproving President Obama’s authority to raise the debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion. The vote, however, is largely symbolic; even without the House’s approval, the Senate is expected to pass the bill when that chamber returns to Capitol Hill next week. Under last summer’s Budget Control Act (Public Law 112-25), the debt limit will be raised automatically 15 days after the President’s request.
Veterans Policy Oversight Committee Briefed on Future of DOD Budget
On January 18 and 19, various leaders of The American Legion met at the Washington Office of National Headquarters for a number of briefings on subjects vital to our organization. One briefing involved the future budgets of the Department of Defense (DOD) and the impact on America’s national security.
President Obama and Secretary Panetta, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other civilian and military Pentagon leadership, held a Pentagon press conference on January 5, 2012 to roll out the Administration’s strategy for countering national threats, sustaining US global leadership, and giving the President’s strategic priorities for defense policy for the FY13 budget. The President will release his FY13 budget on February 6th. Within that budget will be specific proposals for DOD funding which will address efforts to meet the $1 trillion in defense cuts due to the Budget Control Act. Until that budget is released, program cuts, troop end strength numbers, and other specifics are speculative or will be leaked in order to meet the needs of Congress or DOD.
Some of the current leaks include:
· A reduction in the DOD base budget, including military construction funds by $8.5 billion from the 2012 appropriation.
· Reducing the Navy carrier force from 11 to 10 carrier groups.
· Reducing the Air Force inventory by 200 fighters, with a possible delay or extension of the F-35 fighter program.
· Reducing the end strength of the Army and Marine Corps by 10-15 percent. This is a typical peacetime “drawdown” tactic employed under the administrations of Presidents Carter and Clinton.
· The overall DOD budget will be reduced by $487 billion over 10 years rather than the $450 billion reduction which has been the current benchmark. This amount is the first “down payment” required under the terms of last year’s Budget Control Act, which mandates a total of $1 billion in reductions to DOD programs over the next decade.
· Reduction of security emphasis in Europe, Africa, and South America and increased emphasis in the Asia-Pacific regions. This re-emphasis points to allowing allied nations – especially members of NATO – to be more responsible for their own national security.
· Changing retirement and medical benefits in some manner. There are no hard-and-fast provisions for these benefits, only speculation. But it is almost guaranteed that the Obama Administration will offer something.
Defense areas in which the President indicated there will be major changes include: a reduction in nuclear forces; reduction in ground forces structure in the Army and Marine Corps; increases in cyber warfare systems, special operations forces, and other high tech weapon systems; and, increased reliance on the reserve components as the active forces are reduced.
The Appropriations, Armed Services, and Budget committees will hold hearings on the DOD budget beginning in February and throughout the spring. As in previous budgets, Congress will certainly make changes as they see fit in the President’s proposed budget. The American Legion has capitalized on these hearings in the past to our benefit, making recommendations to ameliorate some of the administration’s more radical proposals. For example in 2011, we used the congressional budget process to change the TRICARE fee increase proposals.
Several special interest groups have approached The American Legion and asked for our assistance in modifying some of the anticipated proposals in the FY13 budget. We will continue to foster these contacts and work together where these opportunities are mutually beneficial to The American Legion and veterans/service members. In order to be effective, it will be imperative for The American Legion to remain closely involved with DOD, the other VSO/MSOs, and Congress. We must carefully respond to the facts and actual proposals.
Update on Flag Amendment Bills
Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (UT) office continues to solicit additional cosponsors for Senate Joint Resolution (S.J. Res.) 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 stands at 29.
To date, H.J. Res. 13 – the House companion to the Senate measure – has accumulated 64 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.
I haven't seen anything for a while about H.R. 303. This was the bill calling for full concurrent receipt of military retirement and VA disability compensation for retirees with VA disability compensation under 50 percent. We are still paying our own VA compensation off the top of our retirement. Can you advise retirees as to what is going on with this bill?
Answer:H.R. 303, and the several other bills that would eradicate concurrent receipt, are languishing in committee. The American Legion is still pressing for their action and seeking co-sponsors for the bills, although not as diligently as we might have in the past. The biggest problem with these bills is that they must be paid for under the pay-go rules of the House and Senate. The price tag is in the billions, and in order to pass that, you need to find that money in either increased revenues or cuts elsewhere. As you’re probably aware, Congress is looking for money under every rock and pebble in town. This competition is necessary for every tax break, extension, and spending proposal out there. Unfortunately, concurrent receipt offset has a lower priority. Our biggest advocate, and most likely resolution, will continue to be with Senator Reid (NV) in the Senate. He was instrumental in phasing in the elimination of concurrent receipt the 50 percent and higher veterans in 2003. Since then, he has annually included language to continue to roll back this inequity and without exception the amendment failed during the final votes. He did not do that this year, but has pledged to The American Legion that he will continue to do so at every opportunity he can find. Yet he and his staff have confided to us that they are hamstrung by the “pay-go” rules. Rest assured, we will continue to seek to eliminate this inequity. Your service connected disability should never be offset by your military service. Thanks for your continued support to assist us in ending this longstanding injustice.