Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Politics of Military Funding

The war the war the war. We hear and read about it every day. Even those who oppose the war are providing at least lip service to supporting the troops. And yet …. Some of our lawmakers are playing politics with legislation for the military. Let’s start with the state level and work our up the food chain.

In the Pennsylvania House, HB 2282, which amended the state’s tax code to exempt Pennsylvania National Guard members from the state income tax. All well and good. But the Rules Committee added an unrelated amendment concerning the hotel occupancy tax. In the Oct. 23rd (p. 2276) House Journal Rep. Samuelson asks

Does the hotel tax provision that you have just cited have anything to do with the National Guard?

On the next pages he asks

Then let me ask again if someone could describe exactly how this changes the hotel tax in an amendment that is added to a bill about trying to exempt the National Guard from the income tax.

A good question indeed. The bill passed with the hotel tax information included but, to his credit Gov. Rendell vetoed it. On November 15th identical language but without the hotel tax added on passed the house.

Who in their right mind would decide to attach information about hotel occupancy tax to legislation giving the National Guard a state income tax exemption? To me that is just crass.

Similar shenanigans go on at the federal level. Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania’s 8th district went on record opposing the practice of attaching unrelated spending to legislation that provides equipment and supplies for soldiers in war zones. (link to Congressional Record, link to press release)

“Madam Speaker, I rise today in support of the supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I also wish to register some deep reservations I have with the bill. While I applaud the bill for providing for our troops serving bravely in the field, the bill contains $20 billion for programs and projects not related to funding and equipping our troops. Making sure that our men and women in uniform are well equipped is too important for playing politics, and I am extremely disappointed that these extraneous provisions are included in the bill.


“A major reason that we have all of these extra projects in supplemental spending bills is because President Bush irresponsibly refuses to account for war spending in the regular budget process. This leads to war spending being brought up as so-called “emergency” spending bills, which Congress must pass in order to fund our troops. This fiscal recklessness when dealing with funding for our troops is unique to the Bush administration. The Korean War only had one supplemental spending bill, while the Vietnam War, which lasted eleven years, only had four.

“Madam Speaker, I’m not the type of person who points out problems without proposing a solution. The people of the 8th district sent me here to lead, and that is exactly what I intend to do. For this reason, I have introduced H. Res. 97, a bill to provide for Operation “Iraqi Freedom cost accountability. My bill, among other things, would require that funding for the war in Iraq go through the regular budgeting process, rather than be funded through an endless series of “emergency” spending bills. In my view, this would eliminate the ability to attach non-defense spending projects to a bill that should be about one thing and one thing only: Providing for our troops.

Here is a sampling of other relevant bills going through the Congress and members of the Pennsylvania delegation who have sponsored or co-sponsored the bill.

H.R.327 : To amend title 38, United States Code, to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop and implement a comprehensive program designed to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans. (Altmire, Brady, Carney, Holden, P. Murphy, T. Murphy, Schwartz)

H.R.358 : To amend title 38, United States Code, to expand and make permanent the Department of Veterans Affairs benefit for Government markers for marked graves of veterans buried in private cemeteries, and for other purposes. (Brady, English, P. Murphy, T. Murphy)

H.R.463 : To amend title 38, United States Code, to terminate the administrative freeze on the enrollment into the health care system of the Department of Veterans Affairs of veterans in the lowest priority category for enrollment (referred to as "Priority 8"). (Carney, Kanjorski, P Murphy, Schwartz)

H.R.588 : To extend the period during which members of the Armed Forces deployed in contingency operations may request and receive reimbursement for helmet pads, which are designed to better protect the wearer from bomb blasts than military-issued pads, that are purchased by or for the use of such members. (Carney, P Murphy)

H.AMDT.75 to H.R.1538 An amendment numbered 7 printed in House Report 110-78 to require the Secretary of the Department of Defense to develop and implement a plan to help prevent Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other stress-related psychopathologies (including substance abuse conditions) from developing in our military service members. In addition, this amendment would establish a new Peer-Reviewed research program within the Defense Health Program's research and development function to research the prevention of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and how to best strengthen the psychological resiliency of our military service members. (sponsor, Sestak)

Note that some of those bills are aimed at the families of service members as well as those actually in the military. Spouses and children are also affected by long separations associated with wartime military service. Please note these remarks from the 13th district’s Allyson Schwartz, at the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 1st.

I sometimes believe that my first memory was when I was barely 3 and my father left for the Korean War. I can picture my mother, my brother at 4 ½ and my sister at 2 all slightly sad – not really sure why.
But, I know that my father’s return, more than 2 years later after serving in an Army MASH unit in Korea is in fact my own, real remembrance.
I was 5 years old. I was in Kindergarten and my father came to my school to get me. I remember seeing him. In his uniform. So unlikely to see a man in uniform at school.
But what I remember most was that I did not recognize him. I did not know him. I was a little awed and a little scared. I remember needing to be reassured by my older brother who, at 6 ½, was very much my “older brother” – that it was okay, that this man was our Dad.

So, I know, as I watched families see their Dads and Moms off to war, that there are the tough goodbyes – and there are also the not-so easy homecomings.
That reuniting families is not easy. That our troops come home with experiences separate from their families – some good and some very difficult. That reuniting, reconnecting, is often hard.

So, for the men and women serving and returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who are struggling with changes in their work lives, and changes in their home lives. And, for all families who have experienced separation or loss – who have had experiences that are often not revealed and difficult to communicate – but nonetheless are struggling to be as good as they can be to each other and to their children, I offer a prayer for healing, for overcoming the difficulties, for forgiveness, for feeling connected and whole again.

I can relate to Rep. Schwart'z comments. My father was away almost every other year when I was a girl and those lengthy absences were surely a factor in my parents' divorce. He came back from an overseas tour when I was about 3. My mother tells me that I kept whispering to her that that man was getting in the refrigerator, that man was getting in the car, and so on. She had to tell me who he was. I didn't remember him. This is what we are asking of our military and their families. The least we can do is provide for them without tacking on hotel taxes and other unrelated funding.

1 comment:

phillydem said...

I like Murphy's proposal to make the Bush admin go through the regular DoD budget to fund the war. There is absolutely no reason for this war to be funded solely on emergency appropriations outside the normal chain. Let the war in Iraq compete within DoD for money and see how much it gets. DoD should be forced to prioritize what it wants fund with its 500B/year budget. If it wants a never-ending war, then it might have to do without money for outsourcing and privatization contracts, or SDI or
any other of the many items in DoD's budget.