‘Under the Dome’ Irresponsibility 


Julie Rudowski
Assistant Director,
Government Affairs

No way to do business. As this goes to press, the train of irresponsibility went speeding down the track and hit the wall.

With no time to spare, the House approved a series of continuing resolutions (CR) they knew didn’t stand a chance of passing in the Senate because of added provisions that impacted the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The Senate stripped the provisions from the bill and sent it back to the House.

On the Sunday morning talk shows, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., said that "the House position, which is basically the same one that they sent us the last time, is going to be rejected again. And we are going to face the prospect of the government shutting down come midnight Monday night."

In return, House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, criticized the Senate for not coming into session on Sunday and "bringing the nation to the brink of a government shutdown for the sake of raising taxes on seniors’ pacemakers and children’s hearing aids and plowing ahead with the train wreck that is the president’s health care law."

After a day of heated rhetoric and a classic case of the Washington blame game, the House finally agreed to a motion to enter conference negotiations with the Senate over funding the government beyond Sept. 30, but Majority Leader Reid said he would reject the proposal even before it reached the chamber.

Accordingly, Monday at midnight the government shut down for the first time in 17 years.

The Department of Defense will continue to conduct military operations and training exercises because active-duty uniformed military personnel will stay on the job. However, that is not the story for civilian workers. Of the department’s 800,000 civilian workers, about half will be furloughed. Those deemed essential because they are critical to safety missions, or are actively participating in or supporting a military operation, will continue to work.

All active duty and civilian employees will receive their pay on Oct 1; however, if the shutdown continues, only active-duty members, including reservists on full-time active duty, and those DoD and Homeland Security Department civilians and contractors who are determined to be "providing support to members of the armed forces" will receive an Oct 15 paycheck. That’s because Congress pushed through a measure on Sept. 30 that will exempt those groups from the shutdown.

Medical services offered by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs will not be affected by a shutdown. However, benefits programs will probably be affected. VA’s regional offices handling disability claims will have limited services, and the Veterans Benefits Administration will be unable to process education and rehabilitation benefits. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals will be unable to hold hearings. The VA projects that 95 percent of its 332,000 employees are exempt from furloughs, including the 289,000 who work for the Veterans Health Administration. The department estimates that 14,224 of its employees face furloughs, including more than 7,200 who work for the Veterans Benefits Administration, 3,200 IT workers and more than 1,000 who work for the National Cemetery Administration.

How long the government remains closed is anyone’s guess. However, it could easily merge with the upcoming battle over a raise in the debt ceiling. The government runs out of money in mid-October. The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations. Both sides of the aisle are digging in their heels on this one also.

Folks, we seem to forget that the reason the continuing resolution is even necessary is because Congress is incapable of passing routine spending bills!

Meanwhile the monster also known as sequestration continues.

We do not have a position on whether or not to defund or change the health care law. We do have a position on the havoc the continued fiscal uncertainty is having on the Defense Department. The department is trying to deal with the UNFAIR hand that it has been dealt with respect to sequestration; it does not need a government shutdown added to it.

This is the message that AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., took to the Hill leadership.

In a letter to the Hill, Sullivan said, "Our defense forces deserve no less than your full support for the timely completion of a continuing resolution and then defense authorization and appropriations legislation. I ask that you focus your considerable energies solely on completing those legislative actions so that those who serve in our defense forces can rely on an uninterrupted stream of funding."

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno joined the other service chiefs at a recent hearing before the House Armed Services Committee. He was asked if sequestration continues, could the services meet the requirements necessary to comply with the minimal defense strategic guidance of 2012.

Odierno said, "I believe at full sequestration we cannot meet the defense strategic guidance. In fact, it’s my opinion that we would struggle to even meet one major contingency operation. It depends on assumptions. And I believe some of the assumptions that were made were not good assumptions. They are very unrealistic and very positive assumptions. And for that, they would all have to come true for us to even come close to being able to meet that guidance."

That’s the bottom line.

As long as Congress remains mired in this game of partisan posturing, the Defense Department will continue to deal with the budget uncertainty and unrealistic spending cuts. Further, this continued dysfunction keeps us from advocating for those issues important to us and our members such as full concurrent receipt, the end of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) offset and the Doc Fix.

In a recent meeting at the Pentagon, Sullivan was told bluntly by top Defense leadership that the only way to get the message to Congress that they MUST fix this mess is for their constituents, in large numbers, contact them and demand that they do so.

We, at AUSA, can only provide the message and ask for your help. It is up to you to heed the call. Visit the AUSA’s website www.ausa.org. Click on the "Contact Congress" link and then on the prepared letter "Stop the Budget Madness!!" to let your representatives and senators know that it is time to act.