FRA NewsBytes — 8-02-13

fra_logo_tr-c6-opt1In this week’s edition:
SecDef Proposes Budget Cuts to Comply with Sequestration
FRA Advocates Tougher Predatory Lending Regulations
HVAC Bills Move Forward
Senate Approves Military Nominations
Happy Birthday, U.S. Coast Guard

SecDef Proposes Budget Cuts to Comply with Sequestration

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Admiral James Winnefeld, vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a press conference this week to outline budget-trimming options for the Department of Defense (DoD), if another round of sequestration cuts can’t be averted before the start of the new fiscal year. These additional sequestration cuts are associated with the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 and include a mandate to trim DoD spending by $500 billion over 10 years.

Hagel’s budget-cutting options, provided by the Department’s Strategic Choices and Management Review, include drastically increasing TRICRE fees, reducing housing allowances (BAH), slashing active duty/Reserve pay raises, cutting commissary subsidies, dramatically reducing Army and Marine Corps manpower, and reducing our Naval fleet by three aircraft carriers.

Vice Chairman Winnefeld said the cuts will be “deep and very painful” and both Defense leaders noted the sequestration cuts were doubly painful, since they were coming on top of $487 billion in DoD cuts already scheduled before the passage of the BCA. Sequestration requires 50 percent of the overall budget cuts to come from DoD, even though the Defense budget is only 17 percent of the federal budget.

Neither the Administration’s FY 2014 budget request nor the House (H.R. 1960) and Senate (S. 1197) versions of the 2014 Defense Authorization bills account for $52 billion in cuts that will take effect on October 1, 2013, unless alternative spending reductions are approved by Congress.

FRA believes such punitive sequestration cuts will create a hollow force and endanger national security. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center to contact their elected officials and urge them to exclude DoD from further sequestration cuts. To express your views on this issue, visit http://www.capwiz.com/fra/issues/alert/?alertid=62389731

FRA Advocates Tougher Predatory Lending Regulations
FRA-supported provisions of the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, P.L. 112-239) direct DoD to study credit products and practices that harm military borrowers and propose improvements to the Military Lending Act (MLA). FRA dispatched a letter this week to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, requesting the current regulation’s definition of covered credit be broadened to provide more comprehensive protections against abusive lending practices that focus on the military community.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) is also circulating a letter to her fellow lawmakers, soliciting their support for expanding the MLA to cover all types of high-cost credit, regardless of term or structure of the loan.

Additionally the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) held a hearing this week to examine the rights of service members, veterans, and their families in the financial marketplace. Witnesses at the hearing included Holly Petraeus, assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Board’s Office of Service Member Affairs; Army Col. Paul Kantwill, director of legal policy, Office of Undersecretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness); and Eric Halperin, special counsel for fair lending, Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. The hearing focused on the enforcement of the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and a recent DoD survey that indicated that 80 percent of service members are unaware of any financial protections. Halprin noted that in the last four years, financial institutions have paid more than $50 million in SCRA penalties for erroneously foreclosing on deployed service members’ homes.

Financial protections for service members are important to our nation’s defense. Military service is unique in that financial distress has a direct impact on military readiness, and exorbitant interest rates can only undermine morale and readiness.

HVAC Bills Move Forward
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) voted to approve several omnibus bills, which combine thirty-four measures addressing a number of veterans’ issues, including the backlog of unresolved disability claims, foreclosure protections for veterans, research and treatment of tinnitus, advanced appropriations, and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) planning and budgeting.

The committee approved the FRA-supported “Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013” (H.R. 813), which requires Congress to fully fund the VA’s budget a year ahead of schedule, ensuring that all VA services will have timely and predictable funding. (Currently only VA’s health care accounts are funded on a two-year basis.) The bill, sponsored by Chairman Jeff Miller (Fla.) and Ranking Member Michael Michaud (Maine), also requires the VA to have a five-year spending plan with expected outcomes, milestones and resources. Furthermore, the measure designates a Chief Strategy Officer to ensure that the planning and programming phases of the process are fully implemented.

Members can go to the FRA Action Center to express support for this bill at  http://www.capwiz.com/fra/issues/alert/?alertid=62448091

Other legislation approved by the committee includes:

  •    The “Pay As You Rate Act” (H.R. 2086), sponsored by Rep. Dina Titus (Nev.), would allow veterans who have two or more medical conditions to receive payments for the conditions already adjudicated, while other conditions are still being rated. The bill was amended to include provisions of several other bills.

  •    Legislation (H.R. 2189), sponsored by Chairman Jeff Miller (Fla.), establishes a commission to evaluate the backlog of unresolved disability claims at the VA, and was amended to include the “Blue Water Navy Ship Accountability Act” (H.R. 1494) that directs the Joint Services Record Center (JSRRC) to do a comprehensive search to determine which ship’s crews are eligible under current law for presumption coverage for exposure to Agent Orange.

  •    The “Tinnitus Research and Treatment Act” (H.R. 1443), sponsored by HVAC Ranking Member Rep. Michael Michaud (Maine), recognizes hearing loss as a mandatory condition for research and treatment by Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Auditory Centers of Excellence and ensures VA cooperation with the Hearing Center of Excellence established by the Department of Defense (DoD) to further research on tinnitus.

  •    The “Military Family Home Protection Act” (H.R. 1842), sponsored by Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), provides foreclosure and mortgage protections for certain service members.

  •    Legislation (H.R. 806), sponsored by Rep. Julia Brownley (Calif.), makes permanent the requirement for annual reports from the Comptroller General that reviews the accuracy of the VA medical budget submission.

  •    The “Faster Filing Act” (H.R. 1809), sponsored by Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), requires the VA to notify each person submitting a claim that they are eligible to receive up to an extra year of benefit payments upon filing a claim that is fully developed.

  •    The “VA Regional Office Accountability Act” (H.R. 1824), sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng (N.Y.), requires the VA to make an annual report on each regional office that fails to reach administrative goals concerning timeliness and accuracy of veteran claim adjudication.

    These bills now go to the full House for further consideration.

    Senate Approves Military Nominations
    The Senate approved the reappointment of General Martin E. Dempsey (USA) as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Vice Admiral James A. Winnefeld (USN) as vice-chairman.  The Senate also approved 2,254 other military nominations before beginning its August recess.

    Happy Birthday, U.S. Coast Guard
    Sunday, August 4th, is the U.S. Coast Guard’s 233rd birthday. Originally established as the Revenue Cutter Service, the service was part of the U.S. Treasury Department and became the U.S. Coast Guard in 1915. In 1967, USGC oversight was transferred to the Department of Transportation and, on February 25, 2003, it became part of the Department of Homeland Security.

    FRA salutes all Coast Guard personnel for their unwavering support of our nation and its citizens.  As a tribute to the service, the August issue of FRA Today magazine highlights the outstanding work of USCG Marine Science Technicians.  Visit www.fra.org/publications to read the feature story.