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Congressional Updates

Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate were on recess from April 30 to May 4.

House Subcommittee Marks Up FY13 NDAA

On April 26, The American Legion legislative team attended the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel hearing on its portion of H.R. 4310, the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill was discussed, received no amendments, and was passed unanimously by the subcommittee to the full committee for debate.

Specific provisions of interest to The American Legion are that it:
(1) Authorizes a troop pay increase of 1.7% and extension of bonuses and special pay;
(2) Limits end strength cuts to no more than 15,000 active-duty soldiers and 5,000 active Marines per year for fiscal years 2014 through 2017;
(3) Provides new regulations and procedures for combating and prosecuting military sexual assault including a requirement that the most serious allegations of sexual assault be dealt with by a special court-martial convening authority of a rank no lower than colonel (captain in the Navy), and establishes a special victims team to investigate sexual assault and domestic abuse allegations;
(4) Extends access to family housing for six months and Commissary and Exchange benefits for two years for troops who are involuntarily separated;
(5) Extends some TRICARE benefits to members of the Selected Reserve who are involuntarily separated;
(6) Creates a unified medical command; and,
(7) Makes clear that non-monetary contributions to health care benefits made by our troops and their families through a career of military service to America represents pre-payment of health care premiums in retirement, but the bill does not specifically deny DoD the authority to raise TRICARE fees, deductibles, and co-pays.

The subcommittee also added a provision to award Purple Heart medals to troops injured in two fatal attacks within the United States in 2009, one at a recruiting station in Little Rock, Arkansas, and the other at Fort Hood, Texas.

The full committee is expected to vote on the bill in early May after Congress returns from next week’s recess. It should be noted, however, that many lawmakers have said publicly they doubt a final version of the NDAA will be passed by Congress before the presidential election.

House, Senate Approprations Committees Approve FY13 Justice Spending Bills

Both the House and Senate Appropriations committees have begun the long process of producing the necessary spending measures to fund federal government operations for fiscal year (FY) 2013. The Senate committee on April 19 approved S. 2323, a measure to fund the Departments of Commerce and Justice and Science programs. The vote for passage was 28-1. One week later, the House panel passed its draft bill by a voice vote.

Several of the accounts in the Department of Justice are of particular concern to The American Legion. Some of the funding amounts for selected accounts include:

• $8.3 billion for the FBI under the House measure, $8.2 billion in the Senate bill;
• $2.4 billion for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the House version, while the Senate bill would allocate $2 billion;
• $1.8 billion for state and local law enforcement assistance in the House measure, with $1.1 billion slated for this account in the Senate version;
• $1.2 billion for the U.S. Marshals Service in both bills;
• $1.1 billion for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) in both measures; and,
• $278 million for the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) in the Senate bill, while the House measure would allocate $210 million for this agency.

These measures are still in the preliminary stages of the legislative process. Both congressional chambers must approve these bills, before they are presented to the President for his signature.

HouseVA Panel Holds Markup on Pending Legislation

On the morning of Friday, April 27th the full House Committee on Veterans Affairs (HVAC) held a markup hearing to discuss amendments to pending legislation and vote on whether or not to favorably recommend the pending legislation to the floor of the House. Five bills were up for consideration, with varying levels of comment and amendment.

The first bill discussed also garnered the most discussion. H.R. 4072, the “Consolidating Veteran Employment Services for Improved Performance Act of 2012,” saw conflict over two amendments. The primary purpose of the legislation is to transfer the Veteran Employment and Training Services program from the Department of Labor (DOL) to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Rep. Corrine Brown (FL) offered an amendment that would provide for a study to take place regarding such a move, with no provision to ultimately move the program. This amendment was rejected by a 14-10 vote of the committee. Rep. Tim Walz (MN) offered an amendment that also included a study, but a study to take place after the move was made to measure whatever progress was made by such a move. This amendment passed by a vote of 21-3.

Further amendments added also included text of measures from previous legislation now being consolidated into the larger bill. An automatic annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for disabled veterans was added, in addition to additional support for the Missing in America Project’s efforts to identify and provide proper burial for unclaimed cremated remains of veterans. A study on Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines was added, and a requirement for residency within 50 miles of the “National Capitol Region” was added for judges serving on the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. A minor provision addressing internet forms used by the VA was also included. The bill as finally amended was voted on by the committee and by majority vote was recommended for passage to the floor of the House.

Other bills considered by the markup committee included:
• H.R. 4114 – The “Veterans Compensation Cost of Living Adjustment Act of 2012,” an annual measure passed by Congress to provide for a one year only increase in COLA for veterans if the Consumer Price Index deems such an increase is warranted. This bill was recommended for passage by the committee;
• H.R. 4201 – The Service-member Family Protection Act, which provides protections in custody arrangements for service members facing deployment was also passed favorably out of the committee;
• H.R. 4482 – The Adjustable Rate Mortgage/Hybrid ARM Permanent Authorization would make permanent authorization currently in place for veterans utilizing VA home loans to use these types of loans. This measure was recommended favorably for passage; and,
• H.R. 3670 – Applying USERRA Protections to Certain TSA Employees seeks to ensure that in the future TSA will not be exempted from extending USERRA protections for employment to Guard and Reserve component service members working for that agency. It was also favorably recommended for passage.


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 33. To date, H.J. Res. 13 – the House companion to the Senate measure – has accumulated 84 cosponsors, with the addition last week of Reps. Scott Rigell (VA) and Paul Gosar (AZ).

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.