15 January 2015 Legislative News Update

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Thursday, January 15, 2015

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







THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM.  “We all know there needs to be reform…,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the newly installed chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who was talking about the forthcoming report from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. 

McCain said that he and other committee members are working on their plan of action when the report is released and upcoming hearings on the commission’s findings.  They are also discussing how they will handle potential pay and benefit reforms while seeking to undo mandatory sequestration spending cuts. 

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the committee’s personnel subcommittee said that he expects debate on the report to the “contentious.”  He added, “It’s going to take Republicans and Democrats looking over the commission report and finding common ground.”

For the record – AUSA strongly supports any attempt to end sequestration.  However, we are not in favor of wholesale changes to the current military retirement and compensation system.  Having said that, we will hold our fire until we have thoroughly examined the commission’s report.

HMMM PART 2.  Apparently reform is also the buzz word over on the other side of the Capitol.  The new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas., said that the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill will address several of his legislative priorities, including acquisition reform. 

“It'll have a variety of things in it, but a priority for me is and will always be reforms, and not just acquisition reform, although I think that's essential,” he said. “Congress created the Department of Defense, so it has a unique responsibility to shape it in a way that's in the national interests.  We have to prod and if necessary dictate reforms so that the Department of Defense meets the needs of today's world.

Both McCain and Thornberry said that they would be more inclined to support benefit changes if the current force was exempt. 

BASE REALIGNMENT AND CLOSURE WILL NOT BE A BUZZ WORD if Thornberry has his way.  He said that he will oppose any efforts to authorize another round of base closures and realignments until there is a clearer picture of the military’s roles and missions in the future.

“We are still having a discussion in this country about what the role of the United States is in the world and about what sort of military capabilities we need to fulfill that role.  Once you give up a base or a training range, it’s gone forever.  And, personally, I’m not comfortable yet saying we will never need this base or this training range until we sort our way through this bigger question of what kind of military capabilities are we going to need to fulfill the role that we intend to play in the world,” Thornberry said.

VETERANS got a boost this week when the House unanimously passed The Hire More Heroes Act, offered by Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. 

The bill encourages small businesses to hire veterans covered by the Veterans’ Administration or military health insurance.  It exempts those veterans from being counted against the 50-employee threshold that requires employers to provide health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

In an interview after the vote, Davis said that passage of the bill “is an example of bipartisanship and what the American people want us to do, which is to get things done.”

A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

A LETTER FROM THE GOP DOCTORS CAUCUS sent to the House Republican leadership urges them to prioritize a permanent "doc fix" before the end of the year.

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” (although it never actually gets fixed), 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.

"We appreciate the tremendous effort that Republican leadership and committees have put into [sustainable growth rate] reform this year — but our work is not done," the members wrote in a letter.  "We have a unique opportunity to bring much-needed stability to the Medicare program that will benefit seniors and physicians alike."

The latest one-year patch will expire at the end of March 2015.

AN AUSA SALUTE to Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., for reintroducing The Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act (H.R.333). 

Bishop’s legislation 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.

Full concurrent receipt has been a long-term resolution of AUSA’s.  We appreciate Rep. Bishop’s dedication to this goal and will work with him to get it passed.