AUSA to Congress: ‘Show us the money’ 

Bill Loper

Director, Government Affairs

While Congress knows in early January that the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30, again no appropriations bills have been sent to the president nor has a defense authorization bill been sent to the president.

That of course means that federal agencies will be funded at less than a percentage point higher than 2012 levels through a continuing resolution until Congress finally gets off the dime (so to speak) and shows us the money!

The continuing resolution covers spending until March 27, 2013, – six months into the new fiscal year.

Unless the "lame duck" session of Congress which will meet after the November elections decides to take action – a very unlikely prospect – the new Congress will have to finish the appropriations process that should be done already.

Further complicating matters is the issue of sequestration – the trillion dollar-plus automatic budget cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act passed by Congress last year that will begin its 10-year phase-in on Jan. 2 unless Congress finds another way to cut future budgets by that amount.

Now the presumption is that it will be brought up again in November during the "lame duck" session otherwise the Defense Department will face a $55 billion cut in FY 13 alone- on top of the roughly $490 billion already scheduled to be cut over the next decade.

The lame duck session however is being looked at as the cure all for everything that ails Congress.

In addition to sequestration they must address the following:

Doc Fix: A 1997 deficit reduction law called for setting Medicare physician payment rates through a formula based on economic growth.

The "sustainable growth rate" (SGR) worked for the first few years because Medicare expenditures did not exceed the target and doctors received modest pay increases.

However, in 2002, physicians were scheduled to receive a 4.8 percent pay cut which resulted in a huge outcry.

Because payment rates in the TRICARE program are tied to Medicare rates, this affects many military beneficiaries.

Every year since, Congress has staved off the scheduled cuts by implementing a "fix."

But each deferral just increases the size – and price tag – of the fix needed the next time.

Finding a permanent solution to the annual cuts in reimbursement rates has proven to be next to impossible.

The current fix expires on Dec. 31, and physicians will face a nearly 30 percent drop in reimbursement rates.

By Congressional Budget Office estimations, it would cost about $300 billion to replace the current formula.

Additionally, the uncertainty over reimbursement rates and the constant threat of payment cuts cause more and more physicians to opt out of treating Medicare and TRICARE patients.

Fiscal 2013 Defense Authorization Bill: The House has already passed their version of the authorization bill while the Senate Armed Services Committee has advanced theirs.

Failure to pass what used to be routine defense policy measure before the new fiscal year begins creates havoc for the Defense Department.

So whether the Congress can address all of these major issues as well as the Bush-era tax cuts that are scheduled to expire on Dec. 31 is open to debate.

It looks like a tough slog from mid-November to the end of December.

Rather than me continuing to beat that horse, let’s turn to a more pleasant subject.

The AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition is just around the corner.

We expect enormous numbers of people interested in our Army to arrive in Washington, D.C., to spend time attending professional development seminars, kicking tires on the exhibit floor, and hearing inspirational and often gut-wrenching stories of war from the soldiers who fought them.

The Congressional Staff Breakfast is on track to break attendance records again, and the Resolutions Committee is ready to create AUSA’s legislative agenda for 2013.

In the meantime your AUSA government affairs team will continue to advocate for passage of legislation that matters to our members and our Army.