LEGION-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
Congress returns Tuesday, November 13, to face a crowded agenda. But first, it will swear in five new Representatives who will finish the remainder of terms for those House seats that were left open due to a representative’s death or resignation. These five freshmen will thus have seniority over all the other freshmen sworn in on January 3.
Many items on the agenda are still controversial and there are lengthy matters that remain as well, especially those bills already passed by the House but have not been acted upon in the world’s most deliberative body, the Senate.
High on the list for consideration (and passage) are the National Defense Authorization bills (S. 3254/H.R. 4310). The House passed its version in May but the Senate must debate its measure. And since the bills will be different they must be debated again before a congressional conference committee between the two chambers before a final version can be passed by Congress and sent to the President. Although a defense authorization bill is not necessary, one has passed Congress every year for the last half century.
In addition, the Senate must approve a veterans’ cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). Press reports have been made indicating this is a completed action, but the COLA (currently set at 1.7 percent) must, under current law, be legislatively approved before veterans and survivors can receive it in their January VA benefits. The House passed the COLA bill by a vote of 309 to 0 (H.R. 4114) on July 9 and sent it to the Senate July 10, where it still awaits Senate action.
The Senate must also direct its attention to avert sequestration, or defense spending faces a dramatic, automatic, across-the-board cut of $51 billion in fiscal year 2013, and $500 billion over ten years. The American Legion has lobbied both legislative bodies that such a steep reduction would cause severe, if not irreparable, harm and damage to our national security and some new spending decisions must be made to avert endangering the defense programs of our nation. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called the possibility of sequestration a “doomsday button.”
Congress must also address the “Doc Fix” bill to ensure doctors will be adequately reimbursed for treating Medicare and TRICARE patients. Failure to find an agreement on this issue would result in nearly a 30 percent reduction in payments to doctors.
And there are other issues that must fit into a short time period before the new year arrives, including passage of a Senate bill (S 3276) to extend authorities of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This measure is set to expire at year's end and is considered essential by US intelligence officials. Finally, the Stolen Valor Act is essentially complete and should be passed and sent to the President; otherwise the legislation dies with the end of the 112th Congress and must be re-introduced for action on January 3 with the swearing in of the 113 Congress.
House, Senate Veterans’ Committees Will See Changes
With the 2012 congressional elections essentially finished, Congress will begin the process of filling vacancies and re-arranging committee assignments for the upcoming 113th Congress. The Veterans’ Affairs committees are no exception. Below is a brief look at the departures from each committee.
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
The majority side of this panel suffered three total casualties: 12-term member Rep. Cliff Stearns of Florida, who lost for re-nomination; first term Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle of New York, who was defeated in the general election; and, Rep. Bob Turner of New York, who lost his bid for New York’s U.S. Senate seat after his congressional district was redrawn.
The minority side of the committee sustained slightly larger losses. The most prominent was Ranking Member Rep. Bob Filner of California – serving his 10th term in the House – who did not seek re-nomination to run for the office of mayor for San Diego, CA (which he won). Another significant loss is the primary defeat of 8-term Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas. Next, Rep. Joe Donnelly of Indiana was elected to serve in the U.S. Senate. Finally, Rep. Russ Carnahan of Missouri decided to run for his state’s U.S. Senate seat, losing in the primary.
Among these seven casualties, three are veterans: Rep. Stearns; Rep. Turner; and Rep. Reyes, who all served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era.
SENATE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
There were only a total of three casualties on the Senate panel. On the majority side, Senator Daniel Akaka of Hawaii is retiring, after serving 12 terms in the House (1977-1989), followed by four terms in the Senate (1989 to the present). Also retiring from the Senate – albeit after only one term – is Sen. James Webb of Virginia. Finally, on the minority side, Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts was defeat in the general election. All three of these men were veterans, Sen. Akaka of World War II, Sen. Webb of Vietnam, and Sen. Brown in the Army National Guard – which included deployments during the Persian Gulf War.
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 36. To date, H.J. Res. 13 – the House companion bill to the Senate measure – has accumulated 90 cosponsors.
Please contact your representative’s 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.