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TREA Legislative Update for August 4, 2006

We are coming up to the Congressional Recess. The House is in recess and is expected to reconvene on September 6, 2006. The Senate is expected to recess today. Therefore this is the time for you to try and speak to your Representatives in their home offices. The Senate has been taking up the questions of increasing the minimum wage, changing the estate tax law and overhauling the pension laws. 

Senate Debates Defense Appropriations bill-Delays expected in Senate action on Defense Appropriation Bill-After serious pressure from the House Appropriators the Senate started to debate the Armed Services Appropriations Bill for 07 (HR 5631) It is not clear whether they will get to the VA Military Construction Appropriations Bill (HR 5385) before the August recess. The House Appropriators, for the first time in 18 years, completed all the military and VA spending bills before the Congressional August recess. After pressure from them the Senate took up the Defense Appropriations before the August recess.

On Wednesday the Senate to add nearly $2 billion in emergency spending to its $453.5 billion version of the 07 Defense Appropriations bill to pay for immediate construction of a fence along the U.S.-Mexican Border. Senator Jeff Sessions’ (R-Alabama) and Senator Jon Kyl’s (R-Arizona) Amendment passed 94-3 This amount is added on to the $204 million already in the bill for the fence. Since it is defined as emergency spending it does not count against the bill’s discretionary funding cap.

The proposed fence consists of 370 miles of triple-layered fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers along that border Senator Sessions said the new amendment was needed to ensure that there was full funding committed to construction of the fence. He argued that the money should be attached to the defense bill because National Guard personnel would assist in constructing the fence.

Additionally the Senate unanimously adopted a floor amendment adding $13.1 billion in emergency spending for repairs and replacement of Army and Marine Corps equipment worn down by the war. This Amendment was proposed by Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and ranking Democrat Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii)

At the same time the staffs of the House and Senate armed Services Committees are working behind the scenes to conference the passed House and Senate versions of the Authorization Bills.

Congressional Budget Office brings in Cost Estimate for Veterans Identity and Credit Security Act of 2006-In what must be some sort of a record the CBO reported its estimate of the costs for the Veterans Identity and Credit Security Act of 2006 (HR 5835) This is the bill designed to respond to the security gaps in the VA that were revealed from the theft of the 26.4 million veterans’ personal records. This bi-partisan bill was introduced and voted out of Committee on July 20, 2006 and we already have its CBO scoring! CBO estimated that it will cost $5 million in 2007 and approximately $50 million over the 2007-2011 period. (If there was a security breach similar to the one that happened this year they estimated that the cost could be as much as $1 billion) CBO also estimated that the VA would be expected to experience an average of 3 incidents a year affecting approximately 50,000 people. Such yearly breaches would cost less than $500,000 a year. With these numbers it is likely that a bill will be passed by the end of the session.

2006 TRICARE Communications & Customer Service Conference-The TRICARE Management Activity (TMA), the office of DOD that handles and the information, public relations, education, and customer service for all the TRICARE Programs held its 3 day National Conference this week in Washington DC. TREA’s Legislative Director Deirdre Parke Holleman, attended the conference where she not only heard the latest on TRICARE but met officials from all over the country as well as representatives from all the contractors.

NMFA (National Military Family Association) holds its annual “Leadership Luncheon”-This year NMFA’s annual luncheon’s topic was “ A Military Affair: Senior Military Leaders Discuss their Experience as Parents of Service Members” The panel included General and Mrs. Richard A Cody (Vice Chief of Staff, USA; General Benjamin S. Griffin, USA; BGen and Mrs. Michael R. Regner, USMA; CMSAF Rodney J. McKinley; Mrs. George W. Casey, Jr. USA; and Mrs. Michael V. Hayden USAF (wife of the Director of the C.I.A.).. The panel discussed what it was like to have your children or grandchildren in the military today. TREA’s Legislative Director, Deirdre Parke Holleman, attended as a guest of HealthNet. A book called Your Soldier Your Army A Parents’ Guide by Vicki Cody, published by AUSA was given out. The book is free. If anyone is interested in receiving a copy please call us.        

 

Defense Appropriations: Expected Delays Frustrate Appropriators

By Liriel Higa and Steven T. Dennis, CQ Staff

With four workdays left before the Senate is scheduled to begin its August recess, Republican leaders appear likely to delay floor consideration of two military spending bills until at least September.

The slow pace in taking up the fiscal 2007 measures covering Defense programs and military construction and Veterans Affairs (VA) has frustrated Senate appropriators, who approved all of their spending bills in committee in advance of the August recess for the first time in 18 years.

“We hope the momentum created by the committee translates to the floor time needed to complete consideration of the bills,” said Jenny Manley, a spokeswoman for Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss. “It is in the best interest of everyone — most notably the taxpayer — to avoid an end-of-the-year omnibus bill.”

Floor time this week is being reserved for a package linking an estate tax reduction, extensions for expiring tax breaks and an increase in the minimum wage (HR 5970), as well as a pension overhaul (HR 4).

If that plan stays on track, debate on the Defense (HR 5631) and military construction-VA (HR 5385) spending bills probably would be pushed back until September or later.

House appropriators are concerned about the likely delay too.

The House already has passed all but one of its 11 spending bills, with only the Labor-HHS-Education measure (HR 5647) remaining. Leaders in that chamber have delayed floor action on the Labor-HHS-Education bill because of language added in committee that would raise the minimum wage and because some GOP moderates wanted to spend more than was approved by the House Appropriations panel.

Last year, Congress managed to enact all of its spending bills separately for the first time since 2001. Cochran and House Appropriations Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., have said they would like to do the same this year, but it’s unclear whether the leadership in both chambers will allow them the floor time they need to do so.

Democrats Pounce

Democrats have been using Senate Republicans’ delay in considering the Defense bill as political opening to lambaste a “do nothing” Congress. “What are they doing?” asked Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “In a time of war, you would think this bill would be priority No. 1.”

Instead, Reid argued that Republican leaders are more interested with helping millionaires by permanently reducing the estate tax, one of the core elements of the tax measure they hope to consider this week.

Delaying debate on the Defense bill until September would give Democrats a forum to criticize the handling of the war in Iraq shortly before the midterm elections.

Yet even if they managed to pass the Defense and military construction-VA bills, senators still would be significantly behind schedule compared with last year.

Prior to breaking for last year’s August recess, the Senate had passed five fiscal 2006 spending bills: energy and water (PL 109-103), foreign operations (PL 109-102), Homeland Security (PL 109-90), Interior (PL 109-54) and legislative branch (PL 109-55). In addition, the Interior and legislative branch bills already had been to conference and were signed into law by President Bush on Aug. 2, 2005.

Congress still had to enact multiple stopgap spending measures, or continuing resolutions, once fiscal 2006 began. Such a measure is almost a certainty this year too, as fiscal 2007 begins Oct. 1, although details on spending levels and duration of the measure must still be worked out. A stopgap spending measure would likely keep the government running through the election, though likely not past Thanksgiving.

Continuing resolutions typically have funded federal programs at the same level as the previous year, though last year the House insisted that the funding remain at the House-passed, Senate-passed or previous year’s funding level, whichever was lowest.