Update on FY2008 Defense Authorization Bill Status
House Democratic leaders have scheduled an override vote on President Bush's recent veto of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 (H.R. 1585) to take place when the House of Representatives returns to session on Tuesday, January 15.
Late last month, President Bush unexpectedly vetoed the defense authorization bill over provisions in the bill that would allow plaintiffs in the United States to sue foreign governments, including Iraq.
Congressional passage of this bill in December represented a major legislative victory for improving TBI care for returning service members and veterans. BIAA lobbied actively this past year on many of the TBI care provisions included in the bill and grassroots activity on the part of BIAA advocates, as well as support from the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, helped ensure that these TBI provisions were included in the final bill.
There is a good chance that the override vote scheduled to occur on Tuesday will fail in the face of unified Republican opposition. If this occurs, it seems likely that Democratic leaders would then bring a new bill directly to the House floor that would closely resemble the vetoed defense bill, but with a fix that is currently being negotiated. Similar Senate action seems likely to follow.
According to an article published in CQ Today earlier this week, "While leaders of the Armed Services committees are taking the lead in the substantive negotiations, a new defense bill likely would go straight to the House and Senate floors to minimize opportunities for members to amend the measure."
The widespread hope is that this new, slightly revised defense authorization bill will be signed into law before the end of January.
BIAA continues to hold off on organizing grassroots activity at this time, pending further legislative developments this week and next.
President Bush To Release Contingency Funds for Veterans
The White House announced this week that President Bush plans to approve $3.7 billion in "contingency" funding for veterans' health programs sometime next week.
This welcome development marks the end of speculation over whether the president would block release of the funding, which was included as "emergency" funding in the FY2008 omnibus appropriations bill which passed last month.
During end-of-the-year appropriations negotiations in December, Congressional leaders designated this $3.7 billion in spending as "emergency" funding in order to keep it from counting against discretionary spending caps. This left the ultimate decision on whether to release the funding up to President Bush.
Veterans groups and Democrats have been advocating for the release of this additional funding, which the president has until Jan. 18 to approve.
According to a Dec. 21 letter from Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Democrats, this funding "will ensure, among other things, that the Department will be able to provide timely access to services, furnish improved mental health services and develop the needed capacity to handle the massive claims backlog."
Note: The House of Representatives returns from recess this Tuesday, January 15; the Senate reconvenes next Tuesday, January 22.
BIAA's Policy Corner E-Newsletter will resume regular publication next Friday, January 18, 2008.