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$1.1 trillion spending bill passes House after pleas from Obama, GOP leaders

By S.A. Miller and Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times – Thursday, December 11, 2014 Associated Press
A last-minute plea from President Obama and fatigued GOP leaders overcame rebellions from both conservatives and liberals, clearing the $1.1 trillion spending bill through the House on Thursday in a dramatic late-night vote.
Democrats huddled for more than three hours, and were visited by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who defended the deal just hours after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had publicly trashed it, accusing Mr. Obama and the Senate Democrats who negotiated it of caving to “blackmail.”
Most Democrats stuck with Mrs. Pelosi, but GOP leaders managed to cobble together a centrist coalition that held, passing the bill on a 219-206 vote, with Democrats and Republicans believing they got something important out of the bill, even as they had to accept less than they’d wanted.
“Hold your nose and make this a better world,” Rep. Sam Farr, California Democrat, admonished colleagues just ahead of the vote.
In the end, 57 Democrats joined with 162 Republicans to pass the bill, delivering about the ratio all sides had expected earlier.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where lawmakers are expected to take it up Friday. In the meantime, Congress passed a stopgap bill to keep government operations running for two more days, giving senators a chance to approve the broader bill.
But that almost didn’t happen, as Mrs. Pelosi joined a liberal rebellion against the 1,600-page spending bill.
She sided with those who objected to two provisions: a change that would allow wealthy donors to give up to 10 times more than currently allowed to the national political party committees, and new rules that would led banks trade derivatives with government-insured funds.
Mrs. Pelosi said she was disappointed in Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats who wrote the compromise with House Republicans, and accused them of holding Americans’ needs “ransom” in exchange for what she deemed special-interest provisions.
“Here we are in the House, being blackmailed — being blackmailed — to vote for an appropriations bill,” she said.
For his part, Mr. Obama was slow to defend the compromise, refusing to say Wednesday that he backed it, and only issuing a statement Thursday afternoon, just as the House was narrowly approving the rules for debate to bring the bill to the floor.
In the official administration statement of policy, the White House said it supported the legislation — but spent most of the document listing objections. It was such a tepid endorsement that Mrs. Pelosi used it on the House floor to attack the bill.
Sensing it was facing an embarrassment, the White House geared up.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the bill had money to fight Ebola, boosted funds for the president’s plans to combat the Islamic State and added money to fund the White House’s childhood education program.
He said the bill also included more money for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and said Democrats were able to prevent Republicans from adding language restricting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Those financial-regulation features were part of the compromise that allowed the changes in derivatives.
“We can’t allow a disagreement over one thing to be a deal-breaker over all the others,” Mr. Earnest said, calling the deal the first test of the type of bipartisan cooperation Mr. Obama wanted to see after his side took a drubbing in November’s elections.
For their part Republicans pointed to the bill’s cuts to the IRS and EPA, and provisions denting some of Mr. Obama’s environmental regulations.
But conservatives balked, saying they wanted the bill to halt Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty, too.
“I find it amazingly interesting that instead of working with conservatives, Speaker Boehner called in President Obama to help get Democratic votes,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican. “When you’re in a crisis, you call on the people you can trust — I guess the president is who Speaker Boehner trusts.”
A GOP leadership aide denied calling in the White House to rescue the bill.
Rep. James P. Moran, a Virginia Democrat who supported the deal, said he was stunned his party almost scuttled the deal
“We got virtually everything Democrats wanted to get,” he said, adding that his party’s negotiators were able to block dozens of restrictions on Mr. Obama’s environmental policies that the GOP had wanted to insert in the bill — changes the GOP would be able to make next month when they take control of the Senate.
“If we let this bill go down it is a travesty,” he said ahead of the vote. “In three months, Democrats are going to look back and say what did we do to ourselves and to our constituents?”
Rep. Bill Pascrell, New Jersey Democrat, said he didn’t accept that Democrats will get a worse deal next time.”We’ll fight that fight at that point also,” he said. “I think it’s always a good time to fight.”
Previous shutdown showdowns involved a stand-off between House GOP leaders on the one hand and Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama on the other.
But in Thursday’s fight all three of those forces were aligned and it was House Democrats who were the chief obstacle, objecting to a bill that had been negotiated by their own party leaders at the White House and in the Senate.
Indeed, even as Mr. Obama was making phone calls in the afternoon to try to win supporters, Rep. Maxine Waters of California, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, was making calls urging Democrats to hold firm in their opposition.
Mrs. Pelosi also seemed to add to the obstruction when she released a letter urging the liberal rebellion to hold firm, saying they believed they were the “leverage” she needed to force Senate Democrats and House Republicans to rewrite the bill.
“I’m glad President Obama is on the phone talking to Democrats. I wish Pelosi and the president would get on the same page,” said Rep. Robert Pittinger, North Carolina Republican, as the recess dragged into early evening.

The American Legion and USAA® return

INDIANAPOLIS (August 4, 2014) – Hundreds of motorcyclists will show their support for the children of America’s fallen servicemembers when they embark on the ninth annual American Legion Legacy Run.

American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger will lead the American Legion Legacy Run from The American Legion national headquarters in Indianapolis to the 96th annual American Legion National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. later this month.

The 5-day journey will cover approximately 1,350 miles and cross through Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina as participants raise money and awareness for The American Legion Legacy Scholarship program, which helps fund college educations for the sons and daughters of military members who lost their lives while serving since 9/11.

The Legacy Run will begin in Indianapolis with a gathering of riders on Saturday, Aug.16 for safety training and banquet hosted by the Indiana American Legion and the Indiana American Legion Riders. Sponsored by USAA®, The Legacy Run is one of the largest multistate, multiday cross-country motorcycle events in the United States.

The Run officially begins Aug.17, with the Riders expected to arrive in Charlotte on the afternoon of Aug. 21.

“As an consequence of the hazardous nature of military service, many children of our active-duty military personnel are now members of single-parent families,” Dellinger said. “In some cases their chances to attend college have diminished. These children are entitled to receive some money from the government, but it is not nearly enough. We know we must assist. To us, it’s a sacred obligation.”

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Legion Ride 2-2-2-2-2

The Legacy Run will stop along the way for events arranged by American Legion posts and Legion Riders chapters along the route. Plans include lunches and dinners at American Legion posts, military- themed museums, and a special appearance at the American Legion Baseball World Series championship game on Aug. 19 in Shelby, N.C.

American Legion posts and American Legion Riders chapters along the route also play an important role planning rest stops, coordinating with local traffic officials and law enforcement officers, and helping with the logistics at a dozen or more refueling stops.

Registration is open to all as an additional fundraiser, even those who do not own motorcycles or who do not plan to participate. The first 600 registrations will receive the Run patch as well as a special mapbook with Rider travel information with routes, scheduled stops, timetables, daily maps and refueling locations.

Dellinger will be available throughout the for local media promotional events and to collect donations along the way. Upon arrival in Charlotte, the Riders will enjoy Tar Heel hospitality with American Legion Post 155 in Kings Mountain, N.C. for two days of group rides, visits to area American Legion posts, and a national American Legion Rider meeting at the Charlotte Convention Center. They will also lead the National Convention Parade on Aug. 24, through downtown Charlotte. Nearly 10,000 people each year attend the national convention.

Registration information is available at www.legion.org/riders.

The registration fees and generous support from USAA®, Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing® and other sponsors make the Legacy Run possible. Scholarship donations are not used. Every dollar donated is placed directly into The American Legion Legacy Scholarship Fund. For information about the fund, visit www.legion.org/scholarships/legacy.

For more information, contact Bill Sloan, Assistant Director, Internal Affairs/ALR, PO Box 1055, Indianapolis, Indiana, 46206, tel. 317-630-1321, or email ia@legion.org.
John Raughter
Media & Communications, National Headquarters
Phone 317.630.1253 :: Fax 317.630.1368

American Legion says compromise bill is ‘critical component’ for VA improvement

The measure would seek to correct longstanding systemic problems within the department
WASHINGTON (July 28, 2014) – The country’s largest wartime veterans organization welcomed the introduction of a bill in Congress that would fix longstanding, widespread problems within the Department of Veterans Affairs, which have impaired its ability to deliver timely health care and benefits to America’s veterans.
At a news conference today, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., discussed their joint sponsorship of the Veterans Access to Care Act of 2014, a compromise measure that emerged from previous bills introduced in the House and Senate.
“This measure is a critical component in developing a long-term solution to problems that have dogged the VA for years,” said American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger. “We know that Sen. Sanders and Rep. Miller have labored diligently to reach bipartisan consensus. But it would be a great mistake to see this legislation as a one-time fix for all the woes that have been hobbling VA’s performance and credibility.”
Sanders, chair of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, said at the news conference that the bill “makes certain that we will address the immediate crisis of veterans being forced onto long waiting lines for health care. It strengthens the VA so that it will be able to hire the doctors, nurses and other medical personnel it needs, so that we can put a permanent end to long waiting lists.
“It addresses the very serious problems of accountability and makes certain that dishonest and incompetent senior officials at the VA do not remain employed there….”
Sanders said funding for veterans needs must be considered “a cost of war.”
Miller, who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said, “We have a VA that is in crisis today. This agreement will go a long way to helping resolve the crisis that exists out there today. Helping to get veterans off of waiting lists is extremely important and this bill does that.”
The VA reform bill, Miller said, “starts a conversation, I think, about VA for the future. Sen. Sanders and I differ about certain things but one thing that we do agree about is that the veterans of this country deserve the best-quality health care that they can get, in a timely fashion – and that has not been the case as of late …. The VA is not sacred, the veteran is.”
Major provisions of the bill include:
• Authorization and funding for VA to contract with community providers to help get veterans immediate care for those who had to wait, or would have to travel excessive distances to VA facilities.
• Authorization of 27 Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs), which is one more than the number authorized by the Senate bill
• Increased authority for the VA Secretary to manage senior personnel. Expedited authority to move or fire SES and other senior-grade executives.
• Extension of the traumatic brain injury (TBI) resident pilot program.
• $5 billion to help VA to hire more physicians.
• $10B to help VA reduced the benefits claims backlog.
• Continued VA development of an upgraded IT patient-scheduling system.
The bill would also require the establishment of a Commission on Capital Planning for VA medical facilities, in order to improve VA’s capital asset processes — from facility planning and individual project management to managing the multi-billion dollar backlog of facility construction and maintenance projects.
At his congressional testimony last September, Dellinger addressed The American Legion’s concerns over VA’s chronic cost-overruns and construction delays for new medical centers.
“We hope this commission, after thoroughly examining the way VA builds facilities, will have some useful recommendations to make. In any case, we appreciate Congress’s interest in taking a very close look at the department’s construction process.”
The bill would also establish another commission to examine VA health-care access issues and recommend actions to bolster capacity. A report to the president would be required within 90 days of the commission’s first meeting.
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Media contact: Marty Callaghan:202-263-5758/202-341-8900, mcallaghan@legion.org. A high resolution photo of Nat. Cmdr. Dellinger is available at www.legion.org.

Legion to set up crisis center in Phoenix

Legion to set up crisis center in Phoenix

The center will assist veterans and family members affected by VA’s waiting-list scandal

The American Legion announced it is sending a team of experts to Phoenix next week to set up a Veterans Crisis Command Center to help veterans and family members affected by the health-care scandal at the city’s Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center.

The crisis center, located at American Legion Post 1 on 364 N. 7th Ave., will open its doors at noon on June 10. It is the Legion’s latest response to a situation at the VA facility that has kept 1,400 veterans waiting for medical appointments, and kept another 1,700 off any type of waiting list. The preventable deaths of patients have been linked to what VA’s Office of Inspector General has called a “convoluted” scheduling system.

“We came to Phoenix last month and heard complaints from many veterans at our town hall meeting,” said Verna Jones, director of the Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division in Washington. “Not only are we going there to listen again, but we are going to follow up on their concerns, and provide services and support in their time of crisis.”

Another town hall meeting for local veterans and the community at large is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, June 9, also at American Legion Post 1.

The next day, Jones and her staff will meet with the Phoenix VA facility’s acting director and staff to learn about their action plan to provide immediate care for more than 3,000 veterans who have been waiting for their medical care.

Jones said the Legion’s crisis center will have a “triage team” to identify problems of those who visit the center, then direct them to appropriate stations on-site for benefits claims, enrollment in VA health care and bereavement counseling. Individuals will also be given the opportunity to share their experiences with any local media outlets reporting on the activities.

The claims station will assist those who may be eligible to file benefits claims with VA that are associated with their lack of medical care. If it can be proven that veterans perished because of delayed care, or their conditions worsened, dependency and indemnity compensation benefits may be awarded.

Accredited Legion representatives will also help to enroll veterans into the VA health-care system, and help those who believe their care has been unduly delayed but not yet identified as such by VA.

Grief counselors at the crisis center will assist family members who have lost loved ones due to VA negligence. Counselors from VA Vet Centers will also be on hand to help affected veterans. Long wait-times may have caused or aggravated mental-health conditions such as depression.

Ron Abrams, co-executive director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program in Washington, will also be available to discuss any legal issues with visitors. He is also an accredited American Legion representative.

Ralph Bozella, chairman of The American Legion’s Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Commission, said the crisis center in Phoenix will serve as a template for helping veterans in other cities affected by VA’s wait-list scandal.

“The American Legion wants to help restore the faith of veterans in the VA health-care system,” Bozella said. “We can do that by reaching out and helping people affected by the current VA scandal. That’s why we’re going to Phoenix. That’s why we’ll be going to other cities where men and women who have served America need our help.”

The crisis center will be open from noon to 8 p.m. on June 10, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on the 11th and 12th, and 8 a.m. to noon on the 13th.

Media Contact: Marty Callaghan:202-263-5758/202-341-8900, mcallaghan@legion.org.

John Raughter
Media & Communications, National Headquarters
Phone 317.630.1253 :: Fax 317.630.1368