Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.
In this issue:
- AUSA's Congressional "To Do" List
Members of Congress departed for the Thanksgiving holiday recess last week without cleaning off their desks. The Senate is taking a two-week break while the House is limiting its break to one week. There will only be a handful of legislative days left in the 1st Session of the 113th Congress when they return.
What does this mean? It means that it is time for the annual AUSA Government Affairs congressional “To Do” List.
--Enact the fiscal 2014 Defense Authorization Bill. After the Senate failed to pass a procedural motion to limit debate on the authorization bill, they headed home without finishing it. Although they will probably come back to it after they return on Dec. 9, the bill still needs to go to a conference committee to iron out any differences with the House version (passed 14 June). Complicating matters is the fact that the two chambers are only scheduled to be in session at the same time for one week in December.
It would be the first time in 52 years if Congress fails to approve a defense authorization bill. We are encouraged by news that negotiators from both sides of the aisle are working behind the scenes and have tentatively approved 39 of the more than 500 amendments that have been filed.
The policy bill contains many provisions that are important to AUSA and its members such as amendments that would:
· end the unfair offset of VA Dependency Indemnity Compensation from DoD Survivor Benefit Annuities;
· sustain the 1.8 percent active duty pay raise;
· expand the concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability pay to all disabled retirees;
· grant TRICARE beneficiaries affected by the reduction in TRICARE Prime Service Areas a one-time option to remain in TRICARE Prime; and,
· make Applied Behavior Analysis therapy a covered TRICARE benefit for all active and retired uniformed servicemembers.
--Pass the fiscal 2014 defense and Military Construction/Veterans’ Affairs appropriations bills. The government is currently being funded under a continuing resolution (CR) that will expire on Jan. 15. Although leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have made it very clear that they want to see regular spending bills passed, there is a growing concern that the gridlock gripping Washington over spending may ultimately force another extension of the CR. In fact, it could be extended to cover the rest of the fiscal year.
Operating under a CR means that the military is funded at the previous year’s levels. Any new programs or construction cannot start under a CR. Coupled with the ongoing threat of sequestration, the picture gets very complicated.
The House has already passed both the defense and Military Construction/VA spending bills. Both bills have been approved by the full Senate Appropriations Committee and are awaiting action by the full Senate.
-- End sequestration! Or at the very least, provide some relief. We are hearing some encouraging news on that front also. It is reported that House-Senate budget conference committee members are in negotiations on a plan that would provide some sequester relief and new discretionary spending levels for appropriators for two years.
Among the plans being discussed are proposals to reduce sequester cuts by about $65 billion over two years and offset the spending increases with about $85 billion in deficit reduction generated by federal asset sales, user fee increases and mandatory spending cuts. Aides caution, however, that there is no agreement on those targets.
The increased spending would be evenly divided between defense and nondefense spending, softening a scheduled $20 billion cut in defense spending this year and providing additional resources for the domestic side of the budget.
AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., has said repeatedly that sequestration is a draconian, inefficient and ineffective way to solve America’s budget crisis and that Congress must work together to find a better way to solve our budget crisis than the inefficient and ineffective “slash and burn” called sequestration. He is cautiously optimistic that the House-Senate negotiators will reach an agreement in time.