Legislative Newsletter Update 9 November 2009 

11/9/2009 

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



      
 

In this issue:

  • AUSA's Government Affairs Director Meets with Speaker of the House
  • AUSA-Supported Amendments Not Included in House Healthcare Bill
  • Legislation to Provide Additional Homeowner Relief Becomes Law
  • House Passes Military Spouse Residency Relief Act
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AUSA's Government Affairs Director Meets with Speaker of the House


AUSA’s Government Affairs Director, Bill Loper, along with other members of the Military Coalition, discussed issues important to the Association and its members at a roundtable meeting held last week with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., and 18 other members of the House of Representatives including top House committee chairs.

The group discussed the successes of the newly-passed Defense authorization bill and other defense-related legislation.  Other topics included the 3.4 percent pay raise (.5 percent above the budget request) included in the authorization bill; the successful inclusion of advanced appropriations for VA health care; the need for additional legislation to fix glitches in the new GI Bill; monthly payments for military personnel serving under stop-loss orders; additional money for family advocacy programs; and TBI/PTSD and rehab equipment.

Coalition members stressed the need to continue the fight for an end to the concurrent receipt offset for Chapter 61 and longevity retirees and the need to end the SBP/DIC offset for survivors as well as make retroactive to 9/11 the provisions pertaining to Reserve Component retirement before age 60.   Speaker Pelosi responded, "We aren’t finished with those issues."  Earlier in the discussion, Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo., expressed "major disappointment" that his efforts to negotiate with the Senate in conference did not succeed in finding mutually agreeable funding sources to pay for these critical programs.  However, he also said that the issue will be addressed again in the next session of Congress which begins in January.

The Coalition again strongly urged the leadership to ensure that the unique identity and role of the military TRICARE and VA health delivery systems are preserved under any national health plan they may develop.

The group will meet again next quarter.  The access to the senior leadership of the House that these meetings afford for Coalition members is unprecedented and has given the Coalition agenda enhanced visibility that has translated into many successes.


AUSA-Supported Amendments Not Included in House Healthcare Bill


Three AUSA-supported amendments offered to the House healthcare reform bill that would have clearly protected healthcare options for veterans and servicemembers were not included in the final bill.

The amendments were offered by House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Steve Buyer and House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Howard P. “Buck” McKeon who were concerned that the healthcare legislation limits veteran’s and servicemember’s health care choices and places veterans and military health care unnecessarily at risk by not clearly excluding military and veterans healthcare from the requirements of the bill.

The amendments would have:

* Added a new subsection to provide explicitly that veterans enrolled in the VA health care and TRICARE beneficiaries may choose additional health insurance through the “Health Insurance Exchange”, along with care provided by VA or DOD. 

* Ensured that the authority of the Secretary of VA and Secretary of DOD could never be challenged or obstructed by any provision in the bill or by a secretary or commissioner from another part of government.

* Amended section 342 of the bill to allow individuals enrolled in VA health care and TRICARE to be eligible for affordable tax credits.

After the House vote, Buyer and McKeon expressed deep disappointment that the amendments were not included.  Buyer also thanked AUSA and other military and veteran associations that supported the amendments.

“A number of veterans’ and military groups share my concern and supported my amendment.  Those groups include: the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Blinded Veterans Association, the Air Force Sergeants Association, AMVETS, the Military Officers of America Association, the Association of the United States Army, the National Military Family Association, and the Retired Enlisted Association.  I thank these organizations for their support.  Our veterans have earned VA health care as well as the liberty to choose whatever other coverage they prefer,” said Rep. Buyer.

Although the House has passed their version of healthcare reform legislation, do not think the fight to protect military/veterans' healthcare is over.  The Senate still has to pass their version and then the bills will go to conference to iron out the differences.  We do not know if the Senate’s version of healthcare reform contains language that clearly protects veteran’s and servicemember’s health care choices.  We will continue to monitor this closely and take immediate action as necessary.


Legislation to Provide Additional Homeowner Relief Becomes Law

Last week, President Obama signed the Worker, Homeownership and Business Act of 2009, which includes several tax incentives that provide significant financial help for thousands of military homeowners and potential home buyers.

Of particular interest to the military are provisions that would:

* Extend the $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers who sign a purchase contract before April 30, 2010 and close before June 30, 2010 (first-time buyers are defined as those who have not owned a principal in the three years before buying a house; to qualify, the purchase price must be less than $800,000 and the purchaser's income must be less than $125,000, or $225,000 for a married couple);

* Allow military members an extra year (until April 30, 2011 to sign a contract) if they have been deployed overseas for 90 days or more during 2008 or 2009;

* Offer a new $6,500 tax credit to home buyers who have owned a home for five consecutive years out of the last eight years; and,

* Restore the tax-exempt status of payments made under the DoD Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP).

CONGRESSIONAL MILITARY FAMILY CAUCUS LAUNCHED IN HOUSE

AUSA Director of Government Affairs, Bill Loper, attended a kick-off event that launched the newest congressional caucus - the Congressional Military Family Caucus.  The keynote speaker was ADM Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  He was joined by general officers from all the uniformed services as well as more than 20 members of Congress - each of whom spoke of the military personnel in their respective districts and several of whom serve in a military reserve component. 
 
The purpose of the caucus, which already includes almost 80 members of Congress, is to promote the interests of family members of the uniformed services and educate members and staff on the needs of military families as well as develop legislation to support military families.  Among the issues the caucus plans to address are the effects of multiple deployments on families; childcare; education; DoD health care; families with special needs dependents; and spouse employment. 
 
The co-chairs of the bipartisan caucus are Reps. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who is the spouse of a military retiree.  AUSA will work with the caucus through its Directorates of Family Programs and Government Affairs to advance legislation that will enhance the quality of life for our military families.


House Passes Military Spouse Residency Relief Act


Legislation that allows military spouses to choose the same domicile as their servicemember was unanimously approved by the House last week.  President Obama is expected to sign the Military Spouse Residency Relief Act into law within the next few days.

The House action brings to a legislative conclusion a three-year quest by Rep. John Carter, R-Texas to improve the legal residency status of military spouses that began in 2007.  Legislation offered by Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., had already passed in the Senate.

"This is fantastic news for our service families worldwide," said Rep. Carter. "We should have done this long ago, but at least we are now on track to have a new law in 2009."

The bill allows a military spouse who moves out of a state with their servicemember under military orders to have the option to claim the same state of domicile as their active duty spouse, regardless of where they are stationed. Servicemembers themselves have had that option for decades, while spouse did not, leaving many families with split residencies.