AFSA HQ Newsletter – November 22nd

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES AND NEWS 

Supercommittee Falters; No deal

After 3 months of negotiations, the deficit reduction Supercommittee has conceded defeat.  In a joint statement, co-chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said “After months of hard work and intense deliberations, we have come to the conclusion today that it will not be possible to make any bipartisan agreement available to the public before the committee’s deadline.” 

The Committee’s failure now triggers a fall-back mechanism contained in last summer’s debt reduction legislation know as “sequestration.”   Sequestration is a mechanism through which automatic, across-the-board spending cuts will be made.  DoD now faces $500 billion in cuts that will go into effect starting January 1, 2013.  This, on top of $500 billion the Pentagon already agreed to cut from its budget over the next 10 years. 

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta condemned the Supercommittee’s inability to reach an agreement and warned of its “devastating” consequences for the Pentagon.  “If Congress fails to act over the next year, the Department of Defense will face devastating, automatic, across-the-board cuts that will tear a seam in the nation’s defense.”   He went on to say the half-trillion in additional cuts demanded by sequester would lead to a hollow force incapable of sustaining the missions it is assigned.  “If implemented, sequester would also jeopardize our ability to provide our troops and their families with the benefits and the support they have been promised.   Our troops deserve better and our nation demands better.”

Several lawmakers hope to minimize or block the effects of the automatic budget-cutting trigger mechanism.  In a joint statement issued on Monday, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said “As every military and civilian defense official has stated, these cuts represent a threat to the national security interests of the United States, and cannot be allowed to occur…  We are now working on a plan to minimize the impact of the sequester on the Department of Defense and to ensure that any cuts do not leave us with a hollow military.   The first responsibility of any government is to provide for the common defense; we will pursue all options to make certain that we continue to fulfill that solemn commitment.” 

In his statement, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) said Now, unfortunately, America’s military is facing cuts that will devastate the armed forces and force us to break faith with service members. I do not accept that outcome.  “I will be introducing legislation in the coming days to prevent cuts that will do catastrophic damage to our men and women in uniform and our national security. Our military has already contributed nearly half a trillion to deficit reduction.  Those who have given us so much, have nothing more to giveSecretary Panetta has said he doesn’t want to be the Secretary who hollows out defense.  Likewise, I will not be the armed services chairman who presides over crippling our military.  I will not let these sequestration cuts stand.” 

How their efforts will play out remains uncertain.  President Obama said on Monday he would veto any attempt by Congress to eliminate the automatic spending cuts triggered by the failure of the deficit Supercommittee.  “The only way these spending cuts will not take place is if Congress gets back to work and agrees on a balanced plan to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion,” Obama said.  “They’ve still got a year to figure it out.” 

Clearly our military and its ability to provide for our national defense would be severely harmed if the additional $500 billion in defense cuts are allowed to go forward.  In addition to likely reductions in earned benefits like TRICARE and retired pay, thousands of military and DoD civilian personnel would be cut, weapons systems needed for future conflicts will be eliminated and much needed military training will simply not take place. Americahas serious financial problems but eviscerating the military is not the way to solve them.  In the days and weeks ahead,  AFSA will work with members of Congress to protect earned benefits and ensure our military remains strong and viable. 

Minibus/CR Passed

On Thursday Congress passed HR 2112, a “minibus” spending measure that provides FY 2012 funding for the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.  Attached to the bill was a continuing resolution that funds the remaining federal agencies through December 16.   President Obama signed the measure via autopen on Friday. 

CONGRESS off This Week

Congress is in recess this week though pro forma sessions are scheduled for Tuesday and Friday.  The Senate plans to resume normal legislative activity on Monday, November 28.  The House returns a day later, on Tuesday the 29th.

VOW to Hire Heroes Act is Now Law

On Monday, President Obama signed the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act” into law.  As previously reported, this bill supports transitioning veterans by offering tax credits and other incentives employers that hire former service members.  See this press release ( for more information). 

AFSA Support for Guard and Reserve Members

Late last week the AFSA CEO and Director of Military and Government Relations met with Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN) one-on-one to discuss legislation to lower the Guard and Reserve retirement age from 60 to 55 and garnered his active support for a repeal of the SBP-DIC offset.  AFSA is supporting Waltz’s effort to recognize the service of some Guard and Reserve members who are not classified as a “veteran” under law.  The congressman’s bill, H.R. 1025, which grants these individuals veteran status was approved by the House in early October but now languishes in the Senate.  A similar measure (S. 491) authored by Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) has failed to advance as well. 

Work on Senate NDAA Begins

Last week the Senate began sorting through a number of proposed amendments as the chamber resumed work on its version of the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, S. 1867.  Among the many amendments introduced, but not yet considered, is an AFSA-endorsed provision authored by Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) that authorizes space-available travel for gray area retirees, widows and widowers of retired members, and their dependents.  We are also told Sen. Pryor (D-AR) intends to introduce S. 491 (described in item number 5 above) in the form of an amendment to the NDAA as well. 

One of S. 1867’s most contentious provisions is language pertaining to the handling of suspected terrorists.  Revised text approved by the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee last week continues to draw fire from congressional members and the White House.  This may prolong debate on the measure. 

The chamber intends to resume work on the bill shortly after lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving recess.  Debate on NDAA traditionally lasts longer in the Senate than in the House, and often takes two weeks or more from start to finish. 

Happy Thanksgiving

AFSA wishes each of our members and their families a Happy Thanksgiving.  We hope the day finds you in the midst of plenty—plenty of food and plenty of family.  As we celebrate this important holiday, let us not forget to thank God for the freedoms we enjoy in this country, and the people who insure them with their sacrifices—the men and women of our Armed Forces.  Words alone cannot express our appreciation to those who serve.  Because of you, we can enjoy this day in peace.  Thank You!

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