11 September 2014 Legislative News Update
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.
In this issue:
- Never Forget
- Congress Returns For Short Work Session
- Legislation Would Protect Servicemembers In Contract Disputes
As we mark another anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the United States, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that 47 percent of Americans believe the country is less safe now than before the attacks. In fact, that number has doubled from just last year when only 28 percent felt the same way.
The images of the gruesome murders of two American journalists and other barbaric acts perpetuated by ISIS - the radical terrorist group who now controls about third of Syria and parts of Iraq – are largely responsible for the level of American’s fear.
Another poll conducted by the Washington Post/ABC News found that a whopping 71 percent of respondents back military strikes in Iraq and 65 percent support strikes in Syria – all part of a potential strategy to defeat the terrorist group.
Against such a backdrop, cutting national security spending clearly is unwise.
Not only has the resurgent threat of terrorism alarmed AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., but also the state of affairs here in Washington. Sullivan said, “To maintain national security, we must have military forces that are efficient and effective, well-prepared, agile and smart. They must be well-equipped, capable and responsive. The way to have military forces with those qualities is to invest in America’s future, not to cut defense spending.”
In a recent letter to all 545 members of Congress, Sullivan wrote, “As a nation, we live in perilous times and face complex threats. It is a time when we need leadership, for the peace of mind of U.S. citizens, for our friends and allies and even for our potential enemies, to show this nation is able to govern itself in a collaborative, purposeful and bipartisan fashion.”
Sullivan’s message to Congress is simple:
§ Kill sequestration;
§ Stop all downsizing in the Defense Department and security-related agencies; and,
§ Make some tangible progress in building the balanced joint force with trained and ready land, maritime, air, cyber and special operations forces who can respond anywhere in the world when we need them.
Sullivan knows all too well that the use of the military is not free. According to the Pentagon, military operations in Iraq have already cost over half a billion dollars. This figure will increase dramatically as the Administration continues operations in Iraq and prepares to expand them into Syria.
In testimony to Congress earlier this year, Sullivan acknowledged that AUSA is aware that they and the Administration have had to make difficult choices while bolstering a weak economy and addressing budget deficits. “While we recognize that debt reduction is a national priority, AUSA believes that a disproportionate share of this burden has fallen on the Defense Department, Sullivan testified.
Sullivan also said that, “Requiring that 50 percent of mandatory budget cuts come from defense – even though the defense budget is only 17 percent of the federal budget – is somewhat misguided. How in such a dynamic and dangerous world can we be so shortsighted?”
Army leaders face a no-win situation. They must try to find a balance among readiness, training, education, operational activities, and some modernization as well as Soldier and family program funding. Uncertain times demand agility and adaptability by our defense leaders, yet the funding policies in place are rigid, constraining and damaging to our long-term national security. Continuing this formula for the better part of the next decade defies logic.
CONGRESS RETURNS FOR SHORT WORK SESSION
In the midst of all the turmoil in the world, Congress returned to Washington after a 5-week break. Unfortunately, their return will be brief. Both the House and Senate will be gone again by the week of September 22 and will not return until after the November elections.
Their main objective will be to pass a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the government after the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. The House initially released the details of their CR which would have funded the government until Dec. 11. They also announced that the measure would go to the floor for a vote this week; however, by late in the day, they decided to postpone the vote until next week.
Additionally, after a meeting with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, some in the GOP want the CR to be extended until March 1 instead of Dec. 11. They believe Republicans will have control of both the House and Senate after the mid-term elections.
A summary of the House CR said that, “Virtually all existing policy and funding provisions included in currently enacted fiscal year 2014 Appropriations legislation will carry forward in this CR. The bill does not include new controversial riders, or large changes in existing federal policy.”
There are some changes to existing law; however, that House lawmakers say are needed “to prevent catastrophic, irreversible, or detrimental changes to government programs, to address current national or global crises, or to ensure good government.
§ A provision to extend expiring Department of Defense activities, including counter-drug operations, support to the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq, and rewards for assistance in combatting terrorism.
§ A provision to continue a surge in funding for State Department programs to counter regional aggression toward Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries.
§ Several provisions to ensure appropriate treatment of veterans and continued oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs, such as additional funds for disability claims processing, and funds for investigations into potential improper conduct including “waitlist” and “whistleblower” allegations.
The stopgap bill would also extend funding for the Overseas Contingency Operations account at its current level of $85.2 billion — significantly higher than the $59.7 billion level proposed for fiscal 2015.
One thing is for certain, since no one in Congress wants another government shutdown, a CR will be in place by Sept. 30. What the final version will look like and how long the CR will last is still up in the air.
LEGISLATION WOULD PROTECT SERVICEMEMBERS IN CONTRACT DISPUTES
AUSA’s Director of Government Affairs, Bill Loper, along with other representatives from The Military Coalition met with representatives of the American Association for Justice to discuss action to push forward bipartisan legislation designed to protect servicemembers in contract disputes.
The SCRA Rights Protection Act of 2014 (S. 1999/H.R. 4068) would prevent bad actors from forcing service members to waive their right to a trial by jury before a dispute arises through the use of forced arbitration clauses in contracts for things such as mortgages, auto lease, cell phone contracts and payday loans.
While the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was designed to give military personnel financial and civil relief protections, many have been unable to exercise these rights due to the ever-expanding use of forced arbitration clauses, and prohibitions from joining class action lawsuits.
The bill is cost neutral and has wide support from military and veteran organizations.
The Defense Department, in their 2006 Report on Predatory Lending Practices Directed at Members of the Armed Forces and Their Dependents” concluded that “Service members should maintain full legal recourse against unscrupulous lenders. Loan contracts to Service members should not include mandatory arbitration clauses or onerous notice provisions, and should not require the Service member to waive his or her right of recourse, such as the right to participate in a plaintiff class. Waiver isn’t a matter of ‘choice’ in take-it-or-leave-it contracts of adhesion.”
AUSA signed a Military Coalition letter that notes that “Congress has already passed laws to ban forced arbitration for disputes brought by auto dealers; certainly our nation’s servicemembers should be afforded the same protections on other types of contracts. It’s time Congress enhanced SCRA protections for our brave men and women who commit their lives to defending our country.”
AUSA will continue to work with its Military Coalition partners and the American Association of Justice to further enhance the SCRA in order to better protect our service men and women.