LEGION-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate continue to be in recess this week for the Spring work period.
LEGISLATIVE DIVISION ACTIONS
Retiree Mail at Embassies Debrief
On 11 April, 2012, staff member Shaun Rieley met with State Department officials to discuss the issue of military retiree mail at overseas embassies. The State Department officials stated that while they are sympathetic to the position in which military retirees living overseas find themselves, as well as to the position of The American Legion, there is very little they are able to do in the way of reinstating this service.
It seems that when the decision was made in 2006 to transition operation and funding of postal services at embassies, there was an unspoken expectation that the service would continue as it had previously, to include providing mail services to military retirees. This was the case for a period; however, the impetus for reconsidering the policy came from the embassy in Panama requesting two additional staff members to assist in the processing of mail, due in large part to the large volume of military retiree mail processed at that location. This led to the State Department questioning why they were incurring expenses resulting from the handling of the mail of military retirees, and they began looking into the possibility of having Department of Defense (DOD) reimburse for the costs associated with it.
The DOD lawyers began examining the steps which would need to be taken in order to allow the reimbursement of Department of State (DoS) by DOD, but instead found that was there no legal authority for DOD to transfer funds to pay for a service which is not being provided to or for DOD. Furthermore, there had not been authorization for DOD to commit funds for this service all along, but there had been an ability for DOD to internally absorb the relatively marginal costs of providing these mail services. However, because DOD no longer funds the operation, and there is no authorization for DOD to provide or fund services to individuals who are not DOD employees, this service has been unable to continue.
Additionally, there is the problem that DoS mail is regulated by various international treaties. Nations with which there are status of forces agreements between the host nation and the United States allow for considerably more leeway in terms of customs immunity for mail for APOs and FPOs. However, this immunity applies only to diplomats and those directly associated with the functioning of the embassy for DPOs.
Letters of Support
On April 9, The American Legion sent a letter of support to Rep. Marlin Stutzman (IN), for H.R. 4051, entitled the “TAP Modernization Act of 2012.” This measure would allow the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) to be offered at locations beyond military installations. TAP, as currently offered, overlooks the needs of those service members who are transitioning from active service to Reserve status. There are also many active-duty service members who are unable to attend TAP while on active duty. This legislation would help rectify these problems.
Also on April 9, our organization sent a letter of support to Rep. Jeff Miller (FL), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, backing passage of H.R. 4072, the “Consolidating Veteran Employment Services for Improved Performance Act of 2012.” This measure would relocate veterans’ employment programs currently administered by the Department of Labor (DOL) to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The American Legion believes this move would increase the efficiency of these programs, resulting in better coordination and effectiveness, as well as better services for economically-challenged veterans.
On April 12, The American Legion sent a letter of support to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN), for S. 2121. The measure modifies the Department of Defense (DOD) Program Guidance relating to the award of Post-Deployment/Mobilization Respite Absence (PDMRA) days to certain reserve component service members. This program gave service members deployed beyond established rotation cycles extra leave days to compensate for too little time at home between deployments. Last September, DOD changed the program to reduce the amount of respite leave days to eligible soldiers. This measure would stop DOD from changes the rules in the middle of a soldier’s deployment.
Also on April 12, our organization sent a letter of support to Rep. Patrick Tiberi (OH), backing passage of H.R. 2051, the “Veterans Missing in America Act.” This measure would empower the Department of Veterans Affairs to aid and continue the work of the Missing in America Project (MIAP) to identify unclaimed remains and cremain (cremated remains) of veterans and ensure they receive a proper and honorable burial befitting their service to this nation.
The fiscal year 2013 appropriations process is beginning. What are the various steps of this process when Congress approves funding bills before they are signed by the President?
Since 1976, the U.S. government’s fiscal year begins on October 1, ending on the following September 30. This means that – theoretically – Congress should pass all 12 spending measures which fund federal government operations prior to September 30 each year. However, this has not happened consistently in many years. In fact, the last time federal funding was wholly in place to begin a fiscal year was September of 1996, to begin FY 1997.
According to the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 7, Clause 1), “All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives…” First, a budget resolution is developed, laying out how money will be allocated to fund federal government programs. Usually, the House and Senate should agree to this resolution by mid-April. After that, the House Appropriations Committee makes the specific funding allocations to the 12 subcommittees which have jurisdiction over the many departments, agencies and programs which the federal government runs. The chairmen of these subcommittees are often referred to as the “12 Cardinals.” The 12 subcommittees are:
· Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies
· Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies
· Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies
· Financial Services and General Government
· Homeland Security
· Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
· Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies
· Legislative Branch
· Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies
· State, Foreign Operations, and Related Agencies
· Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies
Each subcommittee holds meetings and hearings, assigning dollar figures to each program, deciding on amendments to increase or decrease these amounts, or whether to eliminate certain programs. Eventually, these subcommittees will approve draft funding bills. These 12 draft measures are then presented to the full Appropriations Committee for further action. Again, these bills are subject to modifications, then approved by the full committee.
Next, these bills go to the full House of Representatives for floor debate. Once again, amendments are discussed, voted upon, and the bills are changed to reflect the will of the majority. Finally, the finished bills are passed by the full chamber, achieving their final form.
Next, the finished measures are sent over to the Senate for consideration. In spite of the constitutional standard – Article I, Section 7, Clause 1 – the Senate Appropriations Committee is also going through the exact same process as occurs in the House. Therefore, by the time a House-passed bill reaches the upper chamber, a Senate version usually exists of each of the 12 spending measures. Consequently, there are, in essence, 24 different bills where there should only be 12.
The Senate often will take the text of their own bills, scrub the House measures clean of their text, and substitute the Senate version, leaving the House bills’ numbers intact. The Senate will then vote to approve the spending measure. However, as the House- and Senate-passed versions of the bills differ, another layer of consideration and discussion is added: the conference committee, a special panel needed to reconcile differences in the two bills before they can become law.
The House and Senate leadership must appoint members to a conference committee for each measure; these conferees are usually members of the Appropriations subcommittees which originally worked on the bills. If the two chambers are close on money amounts, compromises are usually reached fairly quickly, sometimes without involving the senators or representatives. However, if the bills contain other provisions placed by one or the other chamber, sometimes contentious, conference sessions result.
Once the conference committees hammer out versions of each spending bill which they find acceptable, a conference report is issued. This report lays out all the differences in the two versions, and what the final accepted version of the measure shows. Finally, both the House and Senate must vote to approve the conference report. If both chambers agree, the spending measure is now presented to the President for his signature, enacting the bill into “the law of the land.”