When Will Congress Cease Using Defense, Veterans’ Spending to Fund Other Projects?

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150px-Franklin_D__Roosevelt_TIME_Man_of_the_Year_1933_color_photo Time Magazine's 1933 Man of the Year... As the U.S. Senate was working toward adjournment for the month of August, a number of bills were targeted for action by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (NV). One of those measures was H.R. 1586, a bill containing about $26 billion in funding for education and Medicaid programs for the states. However, when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the bill for fiscal neutrality, the agency said that the measure would increase the federal deficit. Consequently, on Tuesday August 3, Sen. Reid offered an amendment to H.R. 1586. While keeping the spending amounts intact, the amendment would rescind funds from existing programs to accommodate the spending in the bill. Among the rescissions contained in the Reid amendment were: • $1 billion in Department of Defense (DoD) operations and maintenance accounts; • $840 million in DoD’s procurement accounts; • $500 million in military construction programs; • $6.1 million from VA’s general operating expenses (GOE) account, used for processing benefits claims; and, • $5 million in VA administrative/IT funds. The Senate began debate on the measure mid-week, with final Senate passage taking place on August 5, by a recorded vote of 61-39. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA) stated on August 4 she will call the House back from recess to pass the final version of the bill, with a final House vote likely on Tuesday, August 10. As a resolutions-based veterans’ organization, The American Legion has no position on this legislation regarding payments to states to save teachers’ jobs, or to fund Medicaid rates at increased offsets. However, our organization is always concerned when Congress takes money appropriated for national defense and veterans’ programs, removes those appropriations for much-needed equipment, programs and services for this nation’s service members and veterans, and then utilizes those funds for programs unrelated to their original intent. This is just another example of Congress trying to balance the Federal budget on the backs of veterans and service members unfairly. In 1933, the inappropriately-named “Economy Act” was signed by President Franklin Roosevelt as Public Law 75-2. This law rescinded $460 million from veterans benefits during the depths of the Great Depression, cutting World War I veterans’ benefits between 25 and 80 percent. On October 2 of that year, President Roosevelt addressed the 15th National Convention of The American Legion in Chicago. In his speech, FDR acknowledged the government’s responsibility to care for veterans with service-connected disabilities, as well as the dependents of those killed in action. Apparently not wishing to leave well enough alone, FDR then bluntly rejected demands by veterans groups, claiming, “No person, because he wore a uniform, must thereafter be placed in a special class of beneficiaries over and above all other citizens…The fact of wearing a uniform does not mean that he can demand and receive from his government a benefit which no other citizen receives.” [This is a very interesting attitude, I must say, from a person who served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy from 1913 to 1920…] 170px-Franklin_Roosevelt_Secretary_of_the_Navy_1913 Despite, or perhaps because of, FDR’s speech, America’s veterans rallied their opposition to the Economy Act. They literally browbeat Congress into passing legislation to restore the majority of those reductions over the next several months. In March of 1934 FDR vetoed a measure that sought to add $90 million to veterans’ benefits. Almost immediately, both chambers of Congress overrode his veto by wide margins. Has Congress learned nothing from previous battles over the past 80 years?
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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.