Legislative Newsletter Update 21 September 2009 

9/21/2009 


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


      
 

In this issue

  • COLA Update
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: More Troops needed in Afghanistan
  • McHugh Confirmed as Army Secretary
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COLA Update


For the first time since 1975 when Congress made the Social Security cost-of-living-allowance (COLA) automatic, beneficiaries are not going to get an increase. 

Why?  Because COLAs are based on inflation and, according to officials, inflation did not increase in 2009.  Except for periods in the 1930s and mid-1950s, inflation has been a fact of life.  However, in October 2008, living costs as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index (CPI) dropped 1.3 percent.  They were down again in November (2.3 percent) and December (1.2 percent).  That means the CPI is almost 4 percent lower than it was during the third quarter of 2008.  Translated:  No COLA for 2010 for those who are retired from the military and the government or those who receive social security benefits.

However, that may not be the end of the story.  Several bills have been introduced in Congress to try and “fix” the no-COLA projection for 2010.

The Emergency Senior Citizen’s Relief Act of 2009 introduced by Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore., (H.R. 3597) and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., (S.1685) would provide social security recipients an extra one-time payment of $250 for 2010.

Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., introduced the Emergency COLA bill (H.R. 3557), legislation that would provide a COLA for 2010 equal to the average of the COLA over the past ten years.  The roughly 3 percent would give the average beneficiary an additional $415.20, a boost of $34.60 a month.

Also introduced last week is legislation that would provide beneficiaries with a one-time payment of $150.  H.R. 3536 was offered by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.

All members of Congress involved with these bills agree that while inflation may not have increased in 2010, many recipients have seen their savings disappear, their pension funds severely decline and the value of their homes dramatically diminished.

AUSA will closely monitor these bills and report on any developments.


Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: More Troops needed in Afghanistan

At his re-confirmation hearing last week last before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen said, “I have a sense of urgency about [Afghanistan], and the clocks are running.”  Adding, “It’s very clear to me we will need more resources.  We badly resourced Afghanistan for four or five years.”  Mullen said that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the overall commander there, “is alarmed by the insurgency.” 

Without specifying when a request for more American and NATO forces might be coming, Mullen said, “It’s not as simple as trainers.  It is not as simple as combat troops. …The issue of re-gaining the initiative is absolutely critical.”

In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., called for more trainers to increase the size of the Afghan National Army to 250,000 by the end of 2012 from the present 134,000 and the Afghan National Police to 160,000 at the same time from the present 96,000.  He also called to hold off on committing more American combat forces.

Levin’s “position will repeat the nearly catastrophic mistakes of Iraq and significantly set back the vital war effort in Afghanistan,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, the ranking member said.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said, “It would be inexcusable” to have the Taliban take control of Afghanistan again and bring back a haven there for al-Qaeda.

The questions many Afghans and Pakistanis are asking themselves, Mullen said are: “Are you staying or are you going. …Are you with us or not?”

He said that important elements of President Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan, including sending 21,000 more soldiers and Marines there, are coming into place.  As part of the strategy, an incentive program to have lower level Taliban leaders abandon the insurgency has been started.

“The President has given us a clear mission: disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies and prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven again.  You can’t do that from offshore, and you can’t do that by just killing the bad guys.  You have to be there, where the people are when they need you, and until they can provide for their own security,” Mullen said in his opening statement.

After saying that 2,000 to 4,000 more trainers would be in country by the end of November, Mullen said it was important to work closely with Afghan security forces and raise their ability to police and secure areas and reduce the level of corruption so they are trusted by the people.  He added that quality training takes time. 

“I consider the threat from lack of governance as the same as the threat of the Taliban.  “That issue of legitimacy is a huge, huge issue,” particularly in light of accusations of voting fraud in the recent presidential and provincial elections.

As for other federal agencies contributing to the counterinsurgency effort, he said, “We’re just not a government that can do this quickly.”

Mullen's remarks come as public debate and debate in Congress on Afghanistan and the need for more troops, is heating up.

The Senate is expected to confirm Mullen for a second two-year term as chairman.


McHugh Confirmed as Army Secretary

The Senate confirmed Rep. John M. McHugh, R-N.Y., to be the next Secretary of the Army last week.  McHugh’s confirmation had been held up by several senators over issues not related to the congressman.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., held up McHugh’s confirmation over concerns that the Army Corps of Engineers had favored Georgia in a dispute with Alabama over control of water supplies.  But Sessions said Sept. 16 that he is satisfied that McHugh will ensure the corps’s neutrality in the dispute.

Kansas Republicans Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback also lifted holds on McHugh after receiving word from the administration that it is not planning to move detainees from Guantánamo Bay to Fort Leavenworth. 

McHugh succeeds Army Secretary Pete Geren, a former Texas congressman.