12 March 2015 Legislative News Update

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Thursday, March 12, 2015

weekly electronic newsletter, and is published 
every Thursday when Congress is in session.







WITH JUST A WEEK AWAY from the budget committees starting to write tax and spending plans, there is no agreement on how to end sequestration, no agreement on increasing defense spending and not even an agreement on the president’s modest plan to slightly raise defense spending caps.  Most Democrats don't want to protect defense spending unless domestic programs are also protected.  Republicans are divided about whether defense spending should be increased at all.

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said that he will not vote for his chamber’s budget resolution unless it raises defense spending. 

McCain told CQ Roll Call that he expects to mark up a fiscal 2016 defense authorization at spending levels that exceed the caps imposed by sequestration.  “We’re going to go past them.  I will not have the responsibility on my hands of passing an authorization bill through the committee that puts the lives of our men and women in the military at risk,” McCain said.

IN RESPONSE TO A REQUEST from Congressional leaders, AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition have outlined our position on recommendations made by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. 

Several of the Commission’s recommendations we support; however, the two that would significantly overhaul the current retirement and health care benefit leave many unanswered questions.  Accordingly, until we get all of our questions answered and we analyze the proposals further, we cannot support them.  A major concern is what effect these major changes could have on the current and future force and their families.

IS THERE FINALLY AN END TO THE DOC FIX?  Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee hopes there is.  Wyden said that instead of another temporary patch, the House is negotiating legislation that would permanently replace Medicare’s physician payment formula. 

Without a permanent solution or another patch, the cuts of about 21 percent will take effect April 1.

In 1997, Congress created the Sustainable Growth Rate or SGR, in order to control Medicare spending by tying it to the rest of the economy’s growth.  It worked fine until health care costs started outpacing the economy.  The “doc fix” refers to short-term patches Congress passes to keep the amount paid to physicians who treat Medicare beneficiaries stable.  Because payment rates in the TRICARE program are tied to Medicare rates, this affects many military beneficiaries and is a concern to AUSA.

In a statement, Sen. Wyden said, “I’ve been in Congress long enough to be skeptical of rumors, but what we are hearing from the House suggests there is real movement to fully repeal and replace the flawed formula for paying Medicare providers known as SGR.”

“If what we’re hearing is true, it’s good news and moves us closer to something I’ve been working tirelessly to achieve – a payment formula that stands on its own, doesn’t require annual, and expensive ‘patches,’ and which opens the door to improving the way care is delivered,” Wyden added.

The good news is tempered by comments House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., recently made to attendees at a hospital conference.  Ryan said that there isn't consensus on how to pay for a permanent repeal and that Congress “will have to buy time” and pass another short-term bill to avert the cuts.

NEW LEGISLATION SPOTLIGHT on a bill that would permit retired members of the Armed Forces who have a service-connected disability rated less than 50 percent to receive full concurrent receipt of both retired pay and veterans' disability compensation, including Chapter 61 disability retirees with less than 20 years of service. 

Introduced by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., S.271 addresses a long-time AUSA goal. Testimony recently offered to the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees by AUSA Vice President for Education LTG Guy Swan, USA, Ret., urged that the disability offset be eliminated completely.

“The principle behind eliminating the disability offset for those with disabilities over 50 percent is just as valid as those 49 percent and below,” Swan said. 

We strongly believe that military members earn their retired pay by service alone, and that those unfortunate enough to suffer a service-caused disability in the process should have any VA disability compensation from the VA added to, not subtracted from their service-earned military retired pay.