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Senate Passes National Defense Authorization Act With Praise From Shaheen, Hassan

(Washington, DC) – Today, the Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which is critical legislation outlining the nation’s defense priorities for the fiscal year. The bill includes the following provisions spearheaded by U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee:

  • Shaheen’s bipartisan amendment that would direct the Department of Defense to fund a nationwide health study on implications of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), such as PFOA, in drinking water. In May, the Air Force announced it would not fund a health study of water contamination around Haven Well at the Pease International Tradeport – Shaheen’s amendment establishes the first-ever nationwide study on the human health effects of those exposed to PFCs in their drinking water;
  • Shaheen’s amendment to ban Kaspersky Lab software from being used by the federal government. The Moscow-based software company has ties to the Kremlin. Shaheen’s previous amendment to ban Kaspersky Lab software from being used by the Department of Defense was included in the committee-passed version of the bill in June. Last week, the Trump administration heeded Senator Shaheen’s call to ban the software company from all federal agencies;
  • Shaheen’s amendment encourages military exchanges (retail stores), including the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) on 3,100 U.S. Army and Air Force installations worldwide, to select more small business suppliers for its convenience and department stores;
  • Shaheen’s amendment to expand the ability of small businesses in rural areas to participate in the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) program, which helps small businesses sell to the federal government;
  • Shaheen’s amendment to ensure that all non-active service members and their dependents have contraception coverage with no cost-share, bringing TRICARE in line with standard civilian birth control coverage;
  • Shaheen negotiated an additional 4,000 visas for the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. The SIV program allows Afghan interpreters and support staff who have assisted in the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and face threats as a result of their service to apply for refuge in the United States. Shaheen’s efforts have been instrumental in keeping this program operating for the brave men and women who have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans in the field, putting themselves and their families at risk to support American troops and operations.

“This bill contains a number of measures to help our communities, including my bipartisan amendment to authorize the Department of Defense to fund a health study on PFOA contaminant, which has polluted water supplies across the nation, and among them, the Haven Well at Pease International Tradeport,” said Shaheen. “The affected communities in New Hampshire have been fighting tirelessly for answers about the risks from exposure to perfluorinated chemicals in their drinking water. They deserve answers, and this measure will help do just that. Going forward, I’ll work to ensure that this national study pays particular attention to the health impacts on Seacoast residents so we can give peace of mind to New Hampshire families who have been impacted by these contaminants.”

“The case against Kaspersky Lab is overwhelming. The strong ties between Kaspersky Lab and the Kremlin are alarming and well-documented. I’m very pleased that the Senate has acted in a bipartisan way on my amendment that removes a real vulnerability to our national security. I applaud the Trump administration for heeding my call to remove Kaspersky Lab software from all federal computers. It’s important that this prohibition also be a part of statute and be expanded to the entire federal government, as my amendment would do. Considering the strong bipartisan, bicameral support for this proposal, I’m optimistic this will soon be signed into law.”

“We are forever indebted to the courageous Afghan civilian interpreters who risk their lives to help American forces. Their efforts have not only supported the United States’ mission in Afghanistan, but they have protected and saved the lives of our service members in the field, helping to ensure that our soldiers make it home to their families. Though investments in this program have previously wavered, I’m encouraged by this bill’s authorization to bolster visa allocations for interpreters and support staff, and I have confidence that Congress will build on this progress as we move forward,” Shaheen concluded.

Senator Maggie Hassan voted to support the legislation and released the following statement.

“In the face of a vast number of national security threats we face as a country, it is essential that the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day to defend our freedom have the support and resources necessary to keep all Granite Staters and Americans safe,” said Senator Hassan. “I am proud to support the bipartisan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018, which supports critical priorities for our national security including providing important funding to upgrade facilities at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.”

“This bipartisan legislation will not only help strengthen security in New Hampshire, but will help boost our economy and create jobs by authorizing funding for the procurement of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, which several suppliers in the Granite State help develop,” Senator Hassan added. “I will continue working across the aisle to ensure that our state and our country remain the strongest military force, while also remaining the greatest force for good.”

The NDAA for 2018 also establishes a nationwide health study on perfluorinated chemicals and other emerging contaminants in drinking war, it includes a 2.1 percent pay increase for U.S. military personnel.

The NDAA passed the Senate by a vote of 89 to 8.

The Senate and House of Representatives will now go to conference on the legislation where it will be finalized and sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

Dept Of Justice Report Reveals Severe Inequalities In Federal Benefits For Same Sex Military Couples

Underscores need for legislation to extend federal benefits to same-sex couples

Gay Couple from back Holding HandsU.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reacted with disappointment today to a Department of Justice announcement that declared that some federal agencies have been unable to extend benefits to same-sex couples in spite of last year’s Supreme Court ruling striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), further underscoring the need to pass her Charlie Morgan Act. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is one department that because of current law is unable to grant important benefits to same-sex couples living in states that do not recognize such marriages even if they are legally married in another state. This has created a situation in which veterans who have volunteered to serve in our Armed Forces are discriminated against and can be denied benefits based simply on geography.

“In the year since the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act we’ve seen significant progress toward ending discrimination in federal policy on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity but more work remains,” Shaheen said. “Today’s announcement underscores the need for legislative action. It is unconscionable that same-sex couples in half the country are denied services extended to all couples in the other half and we cannot allow this to continue, particularly for our veterans who have already sacrificed so much for our country. We need to pass the Charlie Morgan Act because all veterans deserve access to the benefits they have earned.”

“Every legally married, same-sex couple deserves to have their marriage fully recognized by the federal government regardless of where they live or what federal benefits they have earned,” said David Stacy, Government Affairs Director of the Human Rights Campaign. “Senator Jeanne Shaheen didn’t wait while VA was deciding whether they would act to ensure our veterans marriages are respected by their country—she took the lead in introducing legislation to guarantee them the benefits they earned. With Senator Shaheen leading the fight, soon every citizen will be treated equally regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act would require the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to honor any marriage that has been recognized by a state and provide a number of key benefits to the spouses of all servicemembers. By allowing for an individual to be considered a “spouse” if their marriage is valid in their state, Shaheen’s bill ensures that same-sex military families receive many of the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples regardless of where they live.

Shaheen’s amendment honors New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who passed away last year after a battle with breast cancer. Morgan’s wife and daughter have not been able to receive certain survivor benefits due to restrictions in the federal code prohibiting the VA from administering benefits.

Shaheen Highlights Opposition to Administration’s Base Realignment and Closure Proposal at Armed Services Subcommittee Hearing

Shaheen: White House BRAC Proposal Would Weaken National Security, New Hampshire Economy

(Washington, DC) – Citing the proposal’s potential impact on national security and New Hampshire’s economy, this morning U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) reiterated her strong opposition to the White House’s request for a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round in 2017.  While chairing the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support this morning, Shaheen also highlighted the Defense Department’s failure to explain the cost of the last BRAC round as another reason to avoid another round in 2017; according to nonpartisan experts, the 2005 BRAC round exceeded initial cost estimates by $14 billion.  The administration’s BRAC proposal could prove to be particularly consequential for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard which is home to thousands of New Hampshire jobs.

“Our national security, our shipyard, and our economy in New Hampshire would suffer if we had another round of base closures at this time,” said Shaheen after the hearing. “I’ll do everything in my power as Chair of the Readiness Subcommittee to oppose the Administration’s BRAC proposal.”

In written testimony submitted for the committee’s record, Shaheen also added, “I do not believe the Department has adequately explained how the significant cost growth we saw in the 2005 BRAC round would be avoided this time around or made sufficient progress in reducing infrastructure overseas, particularly in Europe.”

As Chair of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, Shaheen, along with the subcommittee’s ranking member Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), have jurisdiction over BRAC proposals in addition to military readiness responsibilities including training, logistics, military construction, and maintenance.

What The F&@#: Issa Proposes End To Six Day Delivery To Save Military Retirees COLA’s

Image from the Muskegon Chronicle http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2010/03/no_saturday_mail_delivery_no_p.html

Image from the Muskegon Chronicle

The depth of Congressman Darrell Issa’s distain for the unionized workers at the US Postal Service knows no bounds.  Now he is pitting the USPS against the US Military.

Government Executive reported this morning:

A new bill would undo the recent cuts made to certain military retirees’ pensions, and in exchange allow the U.S. Postal Service to end Saturday mail delivery.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on Thursday proposed legislation that would restore full cost-of-living adjustments for young military retirees.”

To recap, the bi-partisan budget deal that everyone was giddy over last month made cuts to Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) for veterans who retire after twenty years of service, but have not reached the full retirement age of 62.  To put this into context, this would be a person who could be as young as 38 years old, receiving a military pension, who would receive 1% less in a COLA increase than those retiree’s over the age of 62.

I am against cutting benefits to any worker who has done their time and completed their service after the fact.  That is not the case here.  This change means that these working age retirees will not get the full cost of living increase, which does not mean they are going to see their paychecks go down, as some are implying.  Also nowhere does it say that a retired veteran cannot get another job after they leave the military.  Just look at all the government contractors like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, who routinely hire veterans as military specialists.

You know who else hires a ton of veterans, especially those who have been medically discharged?  The US Postal Service, that is who.  In 2007 the USPS employed over 680,000 people and of that 25% were veterans. (Note 8% of total workforce is listed as disabled veterans).

While that information is great to have, it is not the true point of this post.  The fact that Congressman Issa is, yet again, proposing to cut the Postal Service to five-day delivery is a sham.  He is trying to pull the wool over your eyes, by saying that eliminating Saturday delivery will save the government enough money to offset the retiree’s COLA cuts.

The fact is that the USPS does not take any money from the US Government.  The USPS is a completely self-funded operation, paid in full by the postage on the parcel.  The real issue the USPS is facing is the pre-funding mandate set forth by Congress in 2006.  That mandate requires the USPS to pre-fund all retiree benefits for the next 75 years before 2016.

Congressman Issa and the Postmaster General have used this mandate to make claims that the USPS is going bankrupt.  It is true the USPS cannot afford to pre-pay retiree benefits at 7-times (7X) the normal rate. What corporation could afford that?  They are using this as a way to push the USPS, and its unionized workforce out, and replace it with private companies like UPS and FedEx, who make more money for the 1% on Wall Street.   Let us not forget how UPS and FedEx botched holiday deliveries, while the slow and steady postal service delivered all their packages on time.

This legislation is the biggest shell game I have ever seen.  Instead of just reinstating the cuts to retiree’s, Congressman Issa is suggesting that we steal money from the USPS (which he claims is going bankrupt), and give it to these retiree’s.

If the USPS is failing, as Congressman Issa has said over and over, how exactly is stealing more money from them going to save it?

Rep. Peter DeFazio: "There's no substitute for a universal postal system. The private sector can't fill that gap."  WATCH: http://on.msnbc.com/1dWH1vi  Image from the ED Show

Rep. Peter DeFazio:
There’s no substitute for a universal postal system. The private sector can’t fill that gap.”
WATCH: http://on.msnbc.com/1dWH1vi
Image from the ED Show

Senator Ayotte says (unofficially): Balance the budget on the backs of Federal Workers, not Military Veterans

Balance the budget on the backs of…..

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

This week the Senate will vote on the bi-partisan budget deal that was crafted by Rep Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray.   Everyone has a bone to pick with this budget, but that will not going to keep it from passing.

The budget bill has already passed the House and there was opposition from both sides of the aisle.  The bill is now moving to the Senate where New Hampshire’s own, Senator Kelly Ayotte, joined a few of her fellow Republicans to oppose the budget bill.

From the Washington Post:

“In a joint statement last week, Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said they cannot support the legislation because it “disproportionately and unfairly targets those who have put their lives on the line to defend our country.”

“The budget agreement, crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), would reduce cost-of-living adjustments for working-age military retirees by 1 percent starting in December 2015, although the existing rate would apply again once former service members reach age 62.”

The proposed change is projected to save the government $6 billion, but Ayotte said it “pays for more federal spending on the backs of our active duty and military retirees.”

Wait a minute; Senator Ayotte is opposing the budget because it takes 1% or $6 billion dollars away from the Veterans retirement program that only affects Veterans who retire prior to age 62.  That is right, that is what she is opposing.

My question is why is she not opposing the budget over the $6 billion dollars that federal workers are going to have to make up with higher retirement contributions?  The Association of Federal Government Employees (AFGE) released a statement opposing the bill for just that reason.

“AFGE rejects the notion that there should be a trade-off between funding the programs to which federal employees have devoted their lives, and their own livelihoods.”

Where was Senator Ayotte’s opposition when the non-military federal employees were getting beat down by Congress?

“Unions and employee groups have been fighting the pension change. They say federal workers have already “sacrificed over $113 billion for deficit reduction since 2011” — the figure being based on 3 years without a pay hike and the bigger contribution new hires must put toward pensions.” (Money.CNN)

She was right there voting with the Party to continue to balance the budget on the backs of federal workers, just not the military veterans.

The truth is that this ‘strong opposition’ is nothing more than grandstanding by a Senator who has become the darling of the Republican Party.  Her opposition engages the hard right Republicans who already oppose the budget because it increases spending.  She can use her opposition to fundraise from those same far right Republicans.

The truth is this budget bill will pass, even with Senator Ayotte’s opposition.  She will not be alone in her ‘Nay’ vote for this budget but with the Democratic majority in the Senate, the bill will pass.  Basically it is a free vote for her, to FAKE – I mean – MAKE a stand against the overspending Democrats who are out to harm the beloved military veterans.

With such strong opposition to proposed cuts to our veterans, you would expect Senator Ayotte to be demanding for restoration of all the cuts made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Accordingly to a report out this week from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, approximately 900,000 veterans are currently dependent, in whole or part, on food stamp benefits to care for their themselves and their families.” (Forbes 10/30/13)

Not one state in the entire union has less than 2,200 veterans who are collecting food stamps under the SNAP program this month. (Read the full story about Veterans and SNAP benefits here) 

Senator, don’t tell us your outraged at these cuts to the veterans pensions, while you do nothing for the nearly 1 million veterans who are living off food stamps.  I respect and honor the service these men and women have done for out country, but you need to be consistent in your outrage.

Are they heroes who cannot afford cuts to their retirement, or are they ‘one of those people’ who are living off food stamps?

The truth is, they are both and Senator Ayotte, you should remember that the next time they want to make budget cuts to all of theses social programs.

Homeless VeteransUPDATED: 12-17-13

After I published this story, Senator Ayotte was interviewed for a story in the Union Leader where she stated:
the $6.3 billion could be found elsewhere in the budget, possibly by changing eligibility requirements for food stamps.
So it seems I was right, she does not seem to care about the people who are living in poverty or working for the government, only the working age retired Veterans who make great photo opportunities.

All Signs Point To A Government Shutdown

There is little doubt in my mind that a government shutdown is eminent.  This means anyone who gets a paycheck from the federal government will be either forced to work without pay or forced into furlough status (stay home and not get paid).

Including the military the government employs 4.4 million workers (OPM).  Every one of those people will not be getting paid for work on beginning on Tuesday.

Obviously not all jobs are able to just close up shop.  These are called essential employees.  They could be FBI investigators, Air Traffic Controllers from the Department of Transportation, Secret Service, US Marshalls, some of the people from the Social Security Administrations, and our US Military.   All of these people must go to work, do their normal jobs, but will not get paid for their time.

All of them except the military.   This is another reason that people are really thinking that the GOP is going to push us over the edge.  Late during the night on Friday night the US House passed the “Pay Our Military Act” by a unanimous 423-0.  There is no doubt that the military is special.  They are spread out around the world and they cannot just stay home if the government shuts down.  Not to mention that over 5000 military families receive SNAP (food stamps) from the government on top of their pay.  The SNAP program was recently gutted during the Farm Bill debate.

Many people agree we should be paying the military in the event of a shutdown but what about the other essential government employees.  Those employees who still have to go to work but will not get paid.   What about their families? Why is it ok to continue to pay the military personnel, but not the essential employees?  Better yet, pay everyone and don’t shut the government down.

“I think they’re showing their hand, and it’s unfortunate, because it’s not just our military personnel who will be hurt by the government shutdown,” said Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., at a news conference after the meeting’s conclusion. “The shameful part of it is that Republicans are essentially telegraphing that they intend to shut down the government, and the only folks they are going to worry about, with the government shutdown, are the military personnel.”

Once again the House passed another Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded, with a short list of demands.  Not only did they pass a delay (or repeal) of the Affordable Care Act (43rd time) they added in some other stuff they know they would have no other chance to get passed.

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter stated in a recent press release;

House Republicans have voted 43 times to obstruct a law that was passed by Congress, signed by the President, upheld by the Supreme Court, and reaffirmed by the 2012 election. It doesn’t matter what party or state you represent, holding vital government functions hostage in order to wage an ideological crusade is irresponsible and unacceptable.  These Tea Party tactics hurt our recovering economy and harm working families, seniors, and veterans.”

The GOP in the house who are debating how they are going to fund the government, are proposing that the ‘Medical Device Tax’ be removed.  You got it, they are saying,  ‘we cannot pay our bills so lets stop bringing in revenue as well.’

Of course that is not all.  The House GOP is also pushing their anti-women ideology in this Continuing Resolution.

Roll Call reports, “House leaders made the bill even more unpalatable to Senate Democrats by including a “conscience clause” allowing employers and insurers to opt out of providing coverage for contraception if they have moral or religious objections.”

Seriously I cannot make this stuff up.  The House is pushing to roll back women’s health in a government funding bill.  Talk about earmarks!

Both sides are saying they do not want a shutdown. NH Congresswoman Annie Kuster’s released this statement:

“By refusing to vote on the Senate-passed bill to keep the government open, House Republicans are choosing to shut down the government — plain and simple. This is not what responsible governing looks like. With a costly shutdown just two days away, we don’t have time for more pointless political theater. We need to pass a responsible bill that will keep our government running, our economy growing, and our families and businesses secure. My colleagues across the aisle need to stop putting ideology ahead of common sense and focus on having a rational debate about how to responsibly reduce the deficit, create jobs, and strengthen the middle class. The last thing our economy can afford right now is another manufactured crisis from Washington.”

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter also had a few other things to say about the Continuing resolution:

“Today, House Speaker John Boehner took one big step toward total surrender to the Tea Party and one giant leap toward shutting down the government.  It’s time for Speaker Boehner to reject the most extreme flank of the Republican Party and work across the aisle to keep the government running.”

“I am willing to work with anyone to improve the Affordable Care Act, but changes to the health care law should be debated through an open legislative process, not through a hostage-taking stunt.”

It is strange that the only option that the GOP is offering in reference to the ACA is a repeal/defunding.  Not one of them has offered any suggestions as to how to fix any of the problems they have found.  Not one of them has attempted to make changes to the law to improve it only destroy it.   Jon Favreau, former chief speechwriter for President Obama wrote this in the Daily Beast.

“If Republicans are so confident Obamacare will end badly, why not just shut up about it? It’s not like they have the votes to repeal the law—a math problem they still haven’t solved after 37 different tries. Their appeal to the Supreme Court ended in defeat at the hands of a conservative chief justice. And now the bulk of the plan will begin to take effect in just a few months.

At this point, why not sit back and wait for this crazy experiment to self-destruct? Why not let President Obama and the Democrats reckon with the millions of angry Americans who will undoubtedly hate their new insurance or their new insurance protections?

Because Republicans are terrified that Obamacare could actually work.”

Favreau is right.  If the program is so bad, then stop trying to block it.  The GOP should be encouraging its implementation, just to watch it self-destruct.

Only 24 hours till the potential government shutdown.  And only two weeks until we reach the ‘debt ceiling’.  That is going to be much worse and more dangerous than a government shutdown.

NH Congresswomen Weigh In On The So-Called “Full Faith and Credit Act”

Carol Shea-Porter_Official.2010-300x288WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the House of Representatives voted on H.R. 807, a bill that would ensure Chinese bondholders are paid before American soldiers in the case of a government default.

After the vote, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter issued the following statement:

“I strongly oppose this deeply irresponsible legislation. Middle class families can’t pick and choose which bills to pay, and neither should Congress. 

“H.R. 807 guarantees that if Republicans push our nation into default, bondholders from China and the Cayman Islands would be paid before America’s veterans, Medicare providers, and small businesses. 

“Instead of playing chicken with our nation’s credit rating, Congress should act responsibly and pay the bills that it has incurred.  I, once again, call on Speaker Boehner to appoint budget conferees so Congress can compromise on a sensible budget that ends sequestration, helps create jobs, and responsibly reduces the deficit.”

Congresswoman Annie Kuster also released a statement after her vote:

Ann kuster head shot LG“This bill is nothing more than a plan to default on our nation’s obligations, plain and simple,” Kuster said. “It sets the stage for yet another manufactured crisis that would prioritize payments to China and other foreign creditors over our obligations to seniors on Medicare, veterans, and the men and women of our Armed Forces.”

“Rather than simply bracing for default, both parties need to work together to reduce the deficit in a balanced way that will help create jobs, grow the economy, and strengthen the middle class,” Kuster added. “As we do, Congress must reassure creditors and the American people that our government will continue to meet its obligations and avoid a catastrophic default. Any suggestion that we would even consider doing otherwise would be irresponsible, undermine confidence in our government, and put our credit rating at risk.”

 

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