LEGION-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
Budget Legislation Update
On Tuesday, March 26 the President signed into law Public Law 113-6, legislation to fund all federal government programs for the remainder of the current fiscal year until September 30. The House passed the bill on March 21 by a vote of 318-109, after the Senate had passed the measure the previous day by unanimous consent.
In other budget news, both congressional chambers have passed budget resolutions for the first time in four years. On March 21 the House passed House Concurrent Resolution (H. Con. Res.) 25 by a vote of 221-207. The Senate on March 23 passed Senate Concurrent Resolution (S. Con. Res.) 8 by razor-thin vote of 50-49. Both of these measures will be used as the blueprint by each chamber to work on the spending bills required to fund the federal government for the upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2014.
House of Representatives Cuts Committee Budgets
On March 19, the House of Representatives passed H. Res. 115, legislation that cuts committee funding by an average of 11 percent for the rest of the 113th Congress. The resolution was adopted 272-136 and provides $241 million through January 3, 2015, for the House committees. Funding reductions range from $5.7 million for the Rules Committee to $17.9 million for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Three committees — Budget, Ways and Means, and Intelligence — are cut around 9 percent. Others, including Financial Services; Foreign Affairs; Science, Space and Technology; Small Business; Transportation and Infrastructure; and Veterans’ Affairs are cut around 12 percent. The measure establishes specific spending limits in the first and second sessions of Congress.
LEGISLATIVE DIVISION ACTIONS
Legislative Division Agenda for Upcoming Weeks
The House and Senate were out of session this week and next week as well, so the Legislative Division can focus on catching up on administrative duties and prepare for the Spring NEC meetings, National Convention, and Commander’s testimony on September 10th.
This week we will be working on Rule 3 of the Rules of the National Executive Committee – specifically, the "advance reports." Additionally, the staff will be going over NEC proceedings and procedures, and working with Chairman Governor. Focus will be on Resolution handling and processing, and the Chairman’s report/script will dominate this abbreviated week. Also, we are developing a joint session with the Economics Division during National Convention to host a Congressional Town Hall whereby we invite congressional representatives from the Houston and greater Texas area to participate in a Veterans Town Hall Discussion.
Invitations will be prepared and sent out for Convention speakers, and we will continue to work with Hill staff as the congressional offices remain open even though Congress is not in session.
Lastly, we are developing 4 projects;
1. Legislative e-update, which should launch this Thursday;
2. Revise the Our Pillars, Your Platform publication to include the Commander’s Testimony and an Annual update/forecast of TAL Legislative activity;
3. Develop an interface and online database to manage the Legislative Council; and,
4. Develop an overlay that shows where each post is in relation to congressional districts.
Legion to Address Court Ruling in "2011 Rule" Case
On March 21st, 2013, in the matter of National Association of Veterans Advocates v. Shinseki, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sternly admonished the Department of Veteran Affairs for illegally denying claims based on an improperly instituted rule issued August 23, 2011. That regulation, referred to in the legal proceedings as the "2011 rule", was promulgated wrongly without proper appearance in the Federal Register for public comment. The rule severely disadvantaged veteran claimants undergoing appeals, and in the words of the court caused, "[t]he unwarranted denial of benefits [which] means real-world consequences to veterans. [And,] promises of hypothetical relief do not pay for food or provide needed medical care." The American Legion is developing a letter, to be addressed to VA Secretary Shinseki, seeking evidence that the "2011 rule" is no longer being used.
Letters of Support
The American Legion on March 22 sent a letter of support to Sen. Tom Udall (NM), giving our organization’s support for an amendment to S. Con. Res. 8, the fiscal year (FY) 2014 Senate budget resolution which would give VA more discretion for the appropriations of funds to address veterans rural health care. Many rural veterans are currently in need of increasing medical care, and must travel long distances to see doctors for primary, emergency, and specialty care. Telehealth is working to alleviate the need for travel to major hubs and should be expanded. Sen. Udall’s amendment would support other programs which may increase access to health care. Prior to the resolution’s final passage, Sen. Udall’s amendment was passed. [Resolution 294-2012]
American Legion Legislative Council
The Legislative Division continues the task of re-building the membership of the National Legislative Council for the 113th Congress. Council recommendation forms were emailed to Department leadership in December, asking for nominations for new congressional members. Completed forms were due in the Legislative Division offices in Washington, DC by January 18. To date, 46 Departments have returned their Council nomination forms. The Departments with the greatest congressional redistricting and turn over are still completing their assignments. The only Departments still working on their committee assignments are California, Connecticut, New York, and Ohio
The importance of the Legislative Council cannot be overstated. It is an especially important voice for The American Legion family, and the way in which members of Congress can be quickly contacted when legislative action is needed. Departments are urged to complete their nomination forms and return them to the Legislative Division offices as soon as possible.
Update on Flag Amendment Bill
On January 18, House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res.) 19 was introduced by Representative Jo Ann Emerson (MO). This legislation is 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 next task is finding cosponsors for this legislation. Please contact the offices of your representative and senators, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers. [Res. 272-2012]