Saturday, March 23, 2013

Senate Passes BWN Amendment - Faces Tough Road

In a marathon all night session, members of the US Senate passed the first budget to come from that body in over four years.  Of news to Blue Water Navy Veterans of the Vietnam War, and their spouses and survivors, was the inclusion of Senate Amendment 611, sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand [D-NY], and cosponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham [R-SC]. 

That is the good news.
Now you must understand the road ahead and the pitfalls that await the progress of benefit restoration for BWN Veterans of the Vietnam War as this and other pieces of legislation work their way through Congress.  

First and foremost, this is not a bill making law.  This is a Senate Resolution, and while it is generally to appropriate money for various and sundry projects the Senate likes, and to fund the day-to-day operation of the US Government, it does not make law.  It appropriates money.  Accordingly, as a resolution, it declares the sense of the Senate that the Agent Orange Equity Act is something the Senate, as a whole, wants to see happen.  It does not lay out how that is to happen, but allocates funds for it to happen.  

The bill passed by a 50-49 vote.  Four Democratic Senators up for reelection in Republican leaning states crossed the aisle and voted with Republicans to vote "no" to passage of this entire budget resolution.  There is a glimpse of the political landscape in the US Senate.   

Now the bill goes to the House of Representatives for a vote.  There it will meet fierce opposition by the House Republicans because the Senate Budget raises taxes by a trillion dollars, while cutting spending increases on only $850 million over a ten year period, thus offering only $1.85 trillion in cuts to the deficit.

The House also passed a budget recently.  The House budget is more responsible in that it cuts the deficit by about $4.5 trillion without raising taxes.  

Let's talk budget deficit and national debt.  Budget deficit is the amount of money allocated by Congress each year subtracted from the amount of revenues generated by the Federal government through taxes, fees, tariffs and so on.  It is called a deficit since the annual budget has exceeded revenues for quite a while, causing the United States to amass an enormous National Debt.  The roughly $900 billion budget deficit for the current [2013] year adds to the mounting National debt, which now stands at well over $16 trillion dollars, or more personally, about $53,260 owed by every man, woman and child in the United States of America.   

 So, when you see the projected "deficit" figures proposed in budgets, they are talking over a ten year period.  At the current rate, $9 trillion will be added to that $16 trillion dollar debt by this time in 2023.  The Senate budget will reduce that $9 trillion figure to $7.85 trillion.  The Republican backed house budget will take that $9 trillion dollar deficit figure back to $4.5 trillion, effectively cutting the annual deficits in half, and bringing the nation closer to a balanced budget, with no deficit and enough surplus to whittle away at the national debt [most of which we owe to China.]

So where does this leave the Agent Orange Act?

When the Senate Budget resolution goes to the House for consideration and passage [passages as is will not happen], the House will strip a ton of spending and the tax increase from it to make it closer to its own version that reduces the budget deficit over ten years by $4.5 trillion with no new taxes.  

When the House budget is considered by the Senate [passage as it will not happen], they will add taxes to it, and spending.  

Eventually, the two budgets will land in the middle in what is called a ‘Joint House-Senate Conference Committee,’ which will attempt to hammer out a compromise version of both bills hopefully acceptable enough to both Houses that they will pass it, and send it on to the President for signing.  

In conference committee, the most vulnerable amendments for cutting are, of course, those without a law-making bill behind them.  That would include Senate Amendment 611, the Agent Orange section of the VA budget.

What could possibly save the bill?  

You can.  All of us can.  Get the US House of Representatives to pass the bill introduced by Representative Christopher Gibson [R-NY19], HR 543, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2013, and do so before the two bills go to Conference Committee.  That means within the next month, two months at the outside.  That gives the Senate Amendment a law-enacting bill from the House to back it.  That most likely pulls it from the "probably will be cut" pile and puts it into the "let's talk about this" pile in the Conference Committee.  

We know it is difficult for most of you to travel.  But travel you must, as it will likely pay off for you in the long term.  You must call your local US Representative's office [look in the front of your phone book for the office located closest to you], and ask for an appointment to meet with your representative about the "Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2013".  It doesn't matter if your Representative has cosponsored or not, get to his office and sit with him and make it clear he must help get that bill out of committee and passed on the floor of the House.  And he must ensure that funding for the bill is authorized.   

You must make this push now.  Absolutely and without exception go to your Representative [Don't go to an open public meeting where he is campaigning, but make an appointment to meet him in his local office closest to you when he is not in DC] and talk to him one to one, and tell him your story.  Don't try to take up a lot of his time [figure on getting 15 minutes maximum with him], shorten your story and tell him the bill will fix so many things for so many Veterans, including you, and will also restore the honor of the Blue Water Navy Veterans who did indeed fight in Vietnam.  

No letters this time...just go.  If you do nothing else, go see your Representative.  Do so with an appointment. 

It is your life and your legacy which is at stake. 

Let’s make this push so we all have something to leave behind.
”It is a stain on this nation's honor that the Department of Veterans Affairs has become a deadlier and more difficult adversary to the American veteran than any they have ever faced on a battlefield."-- VNVets
"The concept that Agent Orange, and its effects, stopped dead in its tracks at the shoreline is simply too illogical, and too ludicrous to accept. What does that say about the Obama Administration and his Department of Veterans Affairs?"--VNVets
"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations." --President Abraham Lincoln
"It follows then as certain as that night succeeds the day, that without a decisive naval force we can do nothing definitive, and with it, everything honorable and glorious."--President George Washington

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