Legislative Newsletter 15 June 2009 



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


In this issue

  • Two Senators Recognized as AUSA’s Outstanding Legislators for 2009
  • Conference Committee Approves War Supplemental. Bill Headed for Final Vote
  • HASC Republicans Push for Funding for Retiree/Survivor Programs
  • More

Two Senators Recognized as AUSA’s Outstanding Legislators for 2009

AUSA recognized Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., as its Outstanding Legislators for 2009 in a ceremony held on Capitol Hill last week.

Sen. Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “The men and women of the Army unified this country” by their willingness to serve wherever they have been ordered.  Having served as a member of the committee for almost 30 years, he added, “I have come to understand: ‘Army Strong.’”

Sen. Sessions, a member of the committee, said he was proud of legislation he introduced in 2005 that upped the death gratuity to $100,000 paid to survivors of service members who die while on active duty, and the speed with which it was co-sponsored, cleared the committee and was approved to be signed into law.  He said he was especially reminded of the importance of that act recently when writing letters of condolence to Alabama families who lost a service member in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

In presenting the certificates, AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., said, “Senator Levin through his leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee ensures our military services remain the best-equipped and most capable force in the world, but always with significant emphasis on the all-important human elements of our national defense – the pay and benefits and quality of life of our service men and women and their families.”

About Sessions, Sullivan said he “has focused his national security efforts on providing the military services with the resources they need.  He is determined to ensure that the defense budget remains robust and is not gutted by any so-called ‘peace dividend.’”

Among the more than 100 attendees at the Capitol Hill event was Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey, Jr.

In the past, AUSA has recognized former Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and serving Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I.; Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.; Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas: Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii; James Inhofe, R-Okla.; and Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii as well as key members of the House of Representatives. 

Conference Committee Approves War Supplemental. Bill Headed for Final Vote

The $108 billion fiscal 2009 war supplemental bill was approved by a formal conference committee last week clearing the way for a final vote in the House and Senate this week.

Nearly $80 billion is slated for funding of continued military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, as reported in Roll Call, GOP opposition continues to linger over the inclusion of support for the International Monetary Fund.  Another point of contention is the removal of language blocking the release of photos depicting the alleged abuse of Iraqi and Afghan captives by U.S. personnel.  These issues could either lead to the supplemental's defeat in the House or its blockage in the Senate.  It is uncertain whether President Obama's letter to Congress, which pledges support for separate legislation barring the release of photos, will assuage Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who have threatened to throw up legislative roadblocks until the provision is reinserted.

The final conference report includes:

* $51.3 billion for operations and maintenance and military personnel requirements for ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to support preparation to begin withdrawal from Iraq, consistent with President Obama’s plans

* $2.8 billion to cover identified shortfalls in military personnel accounts

* $1.8 billion for defense health and programs to support military families, including: an additional $94 million for family advocacy programs, $51 million for orthopedic research, $75 million for Traumatic Brain Injury and Psychological Health Research, and $20 million for rehabilitation equipment for wounded warriors

* $453 million for the Commanders’ Emergency Response Program to enable U.S. military commanders to respond to urgent, humanitarian relief and reconstruction needs in their areas of responsibility

* $3.6 billion to expand and improve capabilities of the Afghan security forces

* $1 billion to support Coalition partners who have provided assistance to U.S. military operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom

* $400 million to build the counterinsurgency capabilities of the Pakistani security forces

* $25.8 billion for equipment used by our service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, including $500 million for National Guard and Reserve equipment; $4.5 billion for lightweight Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles; $600 million to fund the request for 4 F-22 aircraft; and $331.9 million to fund high priority intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance initiatives

* $1.1 billion to confront the threat from improvised explosive devices

* $534.4 million to provide over 185,000 service members who have had their enlistments involuntarily extended since September 11, 2001, with $500 per month for every month they were held under stop-loss orders

Military Construction projects will receive $2.7 billion primarily to support combat operations in Afghanistan, to build warrior support facilities in the United States, and to construct child development centers at military installations in the United States and overseas.  This includes:

* $921 million to support increased troop strength in Afghanistan

* $488 million to construct nine wounded warrior support complexes to help soldiers wounded in combat recover and remain on active duty or transition to civilian life and support families through this process

* $276 million to construct 25 child development centers, which will provide an additional 5,000 child care spaces

* $263 million to complete the construction of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, including a Warrior Transition Center, and the Fort Belvoir, VA, Community Hospital

* $488 million for hospital construction to address hospitals that are decades old and do not meet current standards for medical care

The legislation would also allow the extension of 21st Century GI Bill of Rights education benefits to children of members of the armed forces who die while on active duty and would allow the Department of Defense to adjust the rate at which service members repay certain separation benefits.

Once the House and Senate pass the measure, President Obama will sign it into law.

HASC Republicans Push for Funding for Retiree/Survivor Programs

Last week, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee along with the top Republican on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee sent a letter to the Chairman of the House Budget Committee calling on him to utilize the "reserve funds" he imbedded in the House Budget Resolution to pay for key benefits for military personnel and their families, military retirees, and veterans.  The four initiatives mentioned in the letter are fully supported by AUSA’s legislative agenda.    

The letter stated, in part, “As you are aware, the reserve fund created by section 324 of the budget resolution would permit you to provide, in a deficit neutral manner, budget allocations that would complete the promise of concurrent receipt for disabled military retirees (S.546); eliminate the Widows Tax created by the offset between Survivor Benefit Plan ( SBP) annuities and Veterans´ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) (H.R.775/S.535); improve healthcare coverage for reserve component members (H.R. 972); and fund President Obama´s initiative to provide concurrent receipt for disabled military retirees with less than 20 years service.  Cutting waste, fraud and abuse amounting to 0.14 per cent of the spending allocated by the budget resolution would provide the necessary offsets to fund these priorities.”  

AUSA applauds the Minority’s efforts and will keep you updated on developments.

Veterans’ Affairs Advanced Appropriations Measure Clears Committee

Last week, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs passed AUSA-supported legislation that would secure timely funding for veterans’ health care through the advance appropriations process.

H.R. 1016 would authorize Congress to approve VA medical care appropriations one year in advance of the start of each fiscal year.  An advance appropriation would provide VA with up to one year in which to plan how to deliver the most efficient and effective care to an increasing number of veterans with increasingly complex medical conditions.

Currently, the VA's budget is subject to delay and uncertainty, hampering budget planning and threatening health care quality for wounded and indigent veterans.  Unlike Medicare and Medicaid, veterans' health care would not be funded as an entitlement: Congress would still review and manage funding, maintaining oversight.  However, by knowing what funding they will receive in advance, VA would be able to plan more efficiently, and better use taxpayer dollars to care for veterans.

AUSA on the Hill

AUSA Director of Government Affairs, Bill Loper, briefed the 15-member Kansas Governor's Military Council (GMC) on Capitol Hill during their Washington visit last week.  Joining the Air Force Association and the National Guard Association of the United States, he presented AUSA's legislative agenda to the group who later in the day met with the Kansas delegation in both the House and Senate. 

During the meeting, Loper urged the group to ask their members to support increased defense spending and additional authorized and funded end strength for the Army among other issues.  He also thanked them for their support of the two Army installations located in Kansas, Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth, along with the 26 Reserve Centers and 56 Army National Guard armories.