15 July 2013 Legislative News Update 

7/15/2013 

Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.




In this issue:

  • Sequestration & Military Readiness
  • We're Hearing:

★★★
DÉJÀ VU: A FEELING THAT ONE HAS SEEN OR HEARD SOMETHING BEFORE

A letter from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to the Senate Armed Services Committee leadership outlined some the current effects sequestration is having on the department as well as summarizes the department’s initial contingency plan for fiscal 2014 if sequestration continues and the department is hit with a $52 billion budget cut.
 
The letter confirms what we have been saying - that the current sequestration is severely damaging military readiness.
 
Hagel says that if sequestration continues, the department would be forced to:
 
* Reduce operations and maintenance (O&M) accounts by 10-percent
* Reduce modernization accounts by 15- to 20 percent
* Halt all accessions
* End all permanent-change-of-station moves
* Stop discretionary bonuses
* Freeze all promotions
* Reduce end strength more rapidly than planned
* Implement mandatory civilian reductions-in-force
* Further reduce military training
 
BUT, according to Hagel’s letter, Congress could avoid exacerbating these serious training and readiness issues if only they would accept proposals that would increase TRICARE fees, slow growth in military pay raises and implement another round of Base Realignment and Closures.
 
We are disappointed. Disappointed that once again the secretary's message portrays service members and other beneficiaries as unworthy of the compensation they have earned and implies that they are the cause of declining readiness. It demonizes that small portion of the American people who have and continue to sacrifice the most.
 
Disappointed that DoD continues to pit sustainment of the military's most valuable long term resource - the All Volunteer Force - against short term O&M costs. It is a specious argument, especially given recent reports of over $100 billion of waste in the budget.
 
Disappointed that the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives refuse to recognize the disastrous effect it is having on the military and civilians and sit down at the table and hammer out a serious solution instead of indulging in the blame game.
 
Former Defense Secretary (and this year’s AUSA Marshall Award recipient) Robert Gates said it best when discussing sequestration in a recent interview, “There may be a stupider way to do things, but I can't figure out what it is. The result is a hollow military, and we will pay for it in the same way we've paid for it every time we've done this in the past, and this is, in the next conflict—and there will be a next conflict—with the blood of our soldiers.”


WE’RE HEARING:

--that the fiscal 2014 defense appropriations bill could go the House floor this week. The $512.5 billion bill exceeds the discretionary limit set by the 2011 Budget Control Act which could generate more opposition than usual. There is no timetable for the Senate’s action on its bill.

--that the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released a report that contends that the Pentagon could save billions in health care costs by raising Tricare fees for working-age retirees, but it would save only millions if it cut other medical programs. AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition have said (and testified) repeatedly that rather than seeking to raise beneficiary costs, defense leaders should be held accountable for improving efficiency and consolidating redundant, counterproductive health systems. We have never compared savings.

--that the House Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs Committees held an unusual joint hearing that focused on the DoD and VA collaboration to assist servicemembers returning to civilian life. Senior officials testifying assured the committee members that they are closing in on solutions that will alleviate the backlog of veterans’ health benefit claims and streamline processing of current and future claims. In a written, joint opening statement submitted for the record, DOD witnesses stated the two departments will work through the calendar year on achieving full interoperability of health data through a series of near-term “accelerator” efforts. These efforts, they said, will result in each service member and veteran having a single, seamless, shared, integrated healthcare record.

--that Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., has introduced two bills related to civilian furloughs. The first (H.R. 2613) would allow, but not require, the president to exempt DoD civilians from furloughs. The second (H.R. 2614) would authorize the president to exempt civilians from furloughs if they served in the military since August 2011, when the Budget Control Act was enacted. Barrow introduced the measure out of concern for members of the reserve components who were called up to serve in war zones and later, when they returned to their Defense Department civilian jobs, were handed furlough papers.

--that the House passed legislation that would allow veterans’ groups to receive donations of surplus federal property, such as vehicles or electronics, for the full range of services they provide. Introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., the bill addresses limitations on the kinds of donations veterans’ organizations may accept for free. Under the Federal Surplus Personal Property Donation Program, veterans’ groups and other private agencies that serve the public can accept surplus equipment or supplies at no cost if the donation will be used for health or educational services. The bill is now headed to the Senate for action.