10 April, 2019 07:05

Good morning Legionnaires and veterans advocates, today is Wednesday, April 10, 2019 which is American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Day, Salvation Army Founders’ Day, Siblings Day and National Cinnamon Crescent Day.
This Day in History:

  • 2005: Tiger Woods wins his fourth Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club after a 15-foot birdie on the first hole of the sudden-death playoff against Chris DiMarco on April 10, 2005. The victory was Woods’ ninth major championship on the PGA tour.
  • 1942: The day after the surrender of the main Philippine island of Luzon to the Japanese, the 75,000 Filipino and American troops captured on the Bataan Peninsula begin a forced march to a prison camp near Cabanatuan. During this infamous trek, known as the “Bataan Death March,” the prisoners were forced to march 85 miles in six days, with only one meal of rice during the entire journey. By the end of the march, which was punctuated with atrocities committed by the Japanese guards, hundreds of Americans and many more Filipinos had died.
  • On this day in 1963, the USS Thresher, an atomic submarine, sinks in the Atlantic Ocean, killing the entire crew. One hundred and twenty-nine sailors and civilians were lost when the sub unexpectedly plunged to the sea floor 300 miles off the coast of New England.
  • On April 10, 1778, Commander John Paul Jones and his crew of 140 men aboard the USS Ranger set sail from the naval port at Brest, France, and head toward the Irish Sea to begin raids on British warships. This was the first mission of its kind during the Revolutionary War.


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Military.com: New SOCOM Chief Pledges to Crack Down on Operator Misconduct

9 Apr 2019
Military.com | By Richard Sisk
Army Gen. Richard Clarke, the new head of Special Operations Command, pledged Tuesday to tackle misconduct and ethical failures in the ranks of the special ops community that threaten to erode the nation’s trust in its "silent" warriors.
Special operators are held to the "highest professional standards," Clarke said. "We’re also aware that members of our units have failed in recent times to always meet these standards."
Congress’ support is "contingent on the trust that you place in us to execute our missions" in accordance with the nation’s laws and values, Clarke told a hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on special operations and low-intensity conflict.
"This misconduct erodes that trust," he said. "You have my commitment that I will hold people accountable and preserve the trust that America has in its special operations forces."
Clarke did not get into specifics, but special operations has been rocked by charges that Chief Special Warfare Operator Edward Gallagher, a member of SEAL Team 7, stabbed to death a wounded ISIS prisoner in Iraq in 2017. Gallagher also allegedly tried to coerce potential witnesses against testifying.
In another case, two Navy SEALs and two Marineshave been charged in the June 2017 homicide in of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar in Bamako, Mali.
In his testimony at the hearing, Mark Mitchell, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, also stressed ethical standards in accordance with the laws of armed conflict.
"As we continue to make progress, we share the committee’s concerns about the serious ethical failings of some members of our SOF community," said Mitchell, an Army special ops combat veteran who was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for actions in Afghanistan in 2001.
"While they don’t reflect the true nature of an SOF professional, such incidents erode morale and the confidence of our partners and elected representatives," he said. "I can assure you that these incidents have our full attention."
The hearing was called to review SOCOM’s fiscal 2020 budget request of $13.8 billion, an increase of about 2% over the previous year.
According to a Congressional Research Service analysis, the $13.8 billion represents a $381 million increase over the fiscal 2019 SOCOM budget.
The $13.8 billion includes $9.6 billion for the baseline budget and another $4.2 billion from the Defense Department’s Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, funding, the so-called "war budget" that does not count against spending caps of the Budget Control Act 0f 2011.
Both Clarke and Mitchell said the budget request would aid in SOCOM’s ongoing transformation under the National Defense Strategy from counter-terror operations to more focus on deterring near-peer competitors such as China and Russia.
During his confirmation hearing in December, Clarke told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "while violent extremism persists, challenging regional stability and threatening our interest, near-peer competitors grow in both capability and intent to contest our vital national interest."
Clarke succeeded Gen. Raymond A. "Tony" Thomas III, who retired last month after completing a 90-day review of misconduct and ethical challenges facing SOCOM.
Under questioning from Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, Clarke pledged to share with Congress the findings and recommendations of the review.
Clarke, 56, a recipient of the prestigious Distinguished Service Cross, came to SOCOM from his previous post as director for strategic plans and policy, Joint Staff, at the Pentagon.
In his career, he has commanded five different divisions, the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the 75th Ranger Regiment in Europe, Iraq, Afghanistan and stateside, according to his official biography.
Defense News: House sets $1.3T spending cap, budget talks begin
By: Joe Gould 13 hours ago
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WASHINGTON — The House on Tuesday lifted an overall spending cap to $1.3 trillion to allow its appropriators to craft 2020 spending bills.
The measure, which codified a $733 billion top-line for national defense in fiscal 2020, passed 219-201. Seven Democrats voted “no.”
Technically, the House adopted a “deeming resolution” as part of a rule for floor debate on a related bill to lift budget caps for defense and non-defense in 2020 and 2021.
House Democratic leaders decided Tuesday to shelve that bill to avoid airing intra-party divisions over military spending, which also means they will not have a strong vote to take into soon-to-start budget negotiations.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters Tuesday that he is in talks with President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-N.Y., on the possibility of a two-year caps deal. They’ve put together a “staff level” group, he said.
McConnell described a “bipartisan desire” to avoid another stopgap continuing resolution and $126 billon in automatic cuts if Congress fails to lift budget caps.
“So, I’m hoping that this will be the beginning of a bipartisan agreement, which will be necessary, in order to have an orderly appropriations process not only this year, but next year as well,” he said.
The House bill scuttled Tuesday aimed to reset spending limits for defense at $733 billion for fiscal 2020 and $749 billion for fiscal 2020. The non-defense side of the budget also would come in well above statutory budget caps, at $631 billion and $646 billion, respectively.
The defense spending number reflects Democratic pragmatism, but the overall proposal put party leaders at odds with Senate Republicans and the White House, who both want to keep non-defense spending close to the cap level. The proposal also alienated progressive Democrats, who wanted to boost domestic spending and lower defense spending.
“The most important task in front of us right now is to raise sequestration caps to stop extreme cuts from being implemented, ensuring that we can make the needed investments in our national and economic security,” the bill’s co-sponsor, House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said in a statement after Tuesday’s vote.
“There are further conversations we must have to reach consensus between the wings of our caucus, left and right. But we all have a responsibility to govern and obligations to the American people, so our work continues,” he said.
After a closed-door Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday morning, Yarmuth signaled to reporters it was unclear whether enough Democrats would support the caps bill. Fractures were on display last week when three Democrats on the House Budget Committee voted against the measure.
“Instead of spending money on more wars, when we already spend more than the next ten countries combined, we ought to be investing artificial intelligence, in science, in technology, in infrastructure, in education that will make us lead the 20th Century,” one of those three, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., said before the committee vote.
Republicans have been chiding Democrats for days for working on a statement about spending levels neither Republicans nor progressive Democrats will accept. They have accused Democratic leaders of abdicating their jobs and urged them to reconcile these splits to propose a real budget.
Lead Democrats considered that too tall of an order for now, but Yarmuth said at a hearing Monday that they may do so eventually.
“There is nothing that prevents us from producing a budget subsequent to this process,” Yarmuth said. “We felt it was imperative to get the top-line numbers done, raise the caps, so the appropriators could work in a reasonable way.”

Military Times: Shanahan predicts expanded role at border for Pentagon
By: Aaron Mehta   11 hours ago
ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE — Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan expects that the Pentagon’s role on the border will expand in some way as the situation there “deteriorates.”
Shanahan, speaking to reporters while travelling home to Washington, indicated a belief that the number of migrants trying to cross over from the border with Mexico will lead the Department of Homeland Security to request more assistance from the Defense Department.
“We’re still working with DHS to understand, enduring wise, what’s the best fit and role for us and how do we help make sure that DHS can stand up the right capability,” he said. “But just strictly on the basis of the volume and how much the situation there has deteriorated, I would expect us to do more."
The acting secretary added that he expects any additional requests will be “consistent with things we’ve had in the past,” which could include setting up temporary shelters before handing them over to DHS.
“To me, the situation is elastic. If DHS has a certain capacity and there’s a real uptick, then the response is not going to be from them generating more capacity from overtime,” he added.
Shanahan’s comments come on the final day of DHS head Kirstjen Nielsen’s tenure at the agency.
During an interview with Brett Baier of Fox News airing shortly after he returned to Washington, Shanahan defended the military deployments at the border, while denying that he saw “tensions” between President Donald Trump DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, whose last day at the agency was Wednesday.
“These are serious issues and they require serious attention,” Shanahan said.

Air Force Times: A legend passes: Dick Cole, last of the Doolittle Raiders, dies at 103
By: Stephen Losey16 hours ago
Retired Lt. Col. Dick Cole, the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders who rallied the nation’s spirit during the darkest days of World War II, has passed away.
Tom Casey, president of the Doolittle Tokyo RaidersAssociation, confirmed to Air Force Times that Cole died Tuesday morning in San Antonio. His daughter, Cindy Cole Chal, and son, Richard Cole, were by his side, Casey said.
Cole will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Casey said. Memorial services are also being scheduled at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas.
Cole, who was then-Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s co-pilot in the No. 1 bomber during the daring 1942 raid to strike Japan, was 103.
The Doolittle Raid was the United States’ first counterattack on the Japanese mainland after Pearl Harbor. Eighty U.S. Army Air Forces airmen in 16 modified B-25B Mitchell bombers launched from the aircraft carrier Hornet, about 650 nautical miles east of Japan, to strike Tokyo. While it only caused minor damage, the mission boosted morale on the U.S. homefront a little more than four months after Pearl Harbor, and sent a signal to the Japanese people not only that the U.S. was ready to fight back but also that it could strike the Japanese mainland.
Cole’s influence is still very apparent in today’s Air Force, and he remains a beloved figure among airmen. In 2016, he appeared on stage at the Air Force Association’s Air Space Cyber conference to announce that the service’s next stealth bomber, the B-21, would be named the Raider. Hurlburt Field in Florida in 2017 renamed the building housing the 319th Special Operations Squadron the Richard E. Cole Building.
And when he turned 103 last Sept. 7, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein and his wife, Dawn, called him to wish him a happy birthday.
Cole was born and raised in Dayton, Ohio. In a 2016 interview with HistoryNet.com, Cole said he first became interested in flying as a kid, when he would ride his bicycle to the Army Air Corps test base McCook Field and watch the pilots fly. He said he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in November 1940 because “it was a good job,” especially in the midst of the Great Depression, and after finishing training went to the 17th Bombardment Group at Pendleton, Oregon.
He was transferred to Columbia, South Carolina, in early February 1942, where he saw a bulletin board notice seeking volunteers for a mission. His entire group put in their names.
“Everyone wanted to go on that mission,” Cole said in a 2017 Air Force release.
Cole, who was then 26 years old, trained at Eglin Air Field in Florida for the secret raid.
“We were confined to base, in isolated barracks, and told not to talk about our training,” Cole told HistoryNet. “We knew it would be dangerous, but that’s all.”
The B-25 typically needed about 3,000 feet to take off, Cole said, but they trained to get airborne in 500 feet. And when future Navy Admiral Henry Miller started teaching them how to take off from a carrier, they guessed they were headed to the Pacific to take the fight to Japan.
Then-2nd. Lt. Cole became Doolittle’s co-pilot by chance, when the pilot he had been training with fell ill. Doolittle’s intended co-pilot also became unable to fly.
The B-25s were stripped of all excess equipment, including their bombsights and lower turrets, and loaded up with extra fuel tanks that doubled capacity to about 1,100 gallons. They left port from Alameda, California, on April 2, 1942, and two days later were told they would strike Tokyo.
“We were pretty excited — above all, happy to know what we were going to do,” Cole said. “Things quieted down as people began to realize what they were getting into.”
After the Navy ran into a Japanese picket ship, Navy Adm. William “Bull” Halsey decided to launch the mission earlier than planned. Conditions were rough, Cole told HistoryNet — water came over the bow, and the planes started to slip around the deck. But the wind about doubled the carrier speed of 20 to 35 knots, which helped the planes get airborne.
They reached Japan after a little more than four hours, flying at an altitude averaging roughly 200 feet, Cole said. When Doolittle and Cole neared Tokyo, it was bright and sunny. Doolittle pulled up to 1,500 feet, and bombardier Fred Braemer — then a staff sergeant — dropped the bombs. Cole said they “got jostled around a bit by anti-aircraft” fire, but didn’t think they got hit.
Doolittle’s crew intended to land in Chuchow, China, fuel up, and continue to Western China, but they hit a snag. They ran into a severe rainstorm with lightning. Cole said the Chinese also heard their engines and thought they were Japanese, so they turned off the electric power to the lights. The crew had no choice but to fly until they ran out of gas and then bail out, he said.
Cole’s parachute got stuck on a pine tree, 12 feet above the ground. After freeing himself, he walked west to a Chinese village. Cole rejoined the rest of the crew, who also bailed out successfully, and they were picked up by Chinese troops.
He continued serving in the China-Burma-India Theater until June 1943, and then volunteered for Project 9, which led to the creation of the 1st Air Commando Group.
Cole said that Doolittle feared his audacious mission had failed, because all planes and some of his airmen were lost. Three airmen died bailing out, and eight others were captured by the Japanese.
But in 2016, Cole said the raid was “a turning point in the war.” Though the 16 bombers didn’t cause much damage, their actions prompted the Japanese to pull back its forces from Australia and India to shore up the Central Pacific, he said, and they transferred two carriers to Alaska, where they thought the raid had originated, which evened the odds for the Navy at Midway.
“Japanese naval forces were at a disadvantage from then on,” Cole said.
The raid also had two other goals, Cole said: First, to show the Japanese people that despite what their leaders told them, Japan could be bombed from the air. And second, “to give the Allies, and particularly the United States, a morale shot in the arm.”
Cole and the other Raiders received the Distinguished Flying Cross, and Doolittle received the Medal of Honor.
“He deserved a lot more,” Cole said of Doolittle. When asked what he thought of his commander, Cole said, “the highest order of respect from one human being to another.”
When Cole retired, his list of decorations included the DFC with two oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star, and the Air Force Commendation Medal. In 2014, President Obama presented Cole and three other Raiders the Congressional Gold Medal at the White House.
But Cole said the Raiders didn’t feel like heroes.
“We were just doing our job, part of the big picture, and happy that what we did was helpful,” Cole said.
David Lauterborn of HistoryNet.com contributed to this report.

Military Times: VA secretary’s health care fight could affect the department for decades to come
By: Leo Shane III14 hours ago
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie sits down with Military Times to talk about coming changes to the department, and how a personal story about his father helps drive him to improve it.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie frequently reminds people that he has only been on the job for eight months. He also knows the decisions he is making now could affect the department for decades to come.
“For the first time since the fall of Saigon, more than half of our veterans are under the age of 65,” Wilkie told Military Times in an exclusive interview last week. “They have very different attitudes when it comes to care. They want care that’s close to home. They want care that is quick. They’re not from a world where they are comfortable sitting and waiting.”
Starting June 6, Wilkie insists, those veterans won’t have to wait any longer.
Under the VA Mission Act, passed by Congress last summer, the department is set for a sweeping expansion of its community care program, the rules governing when veterans can see a private health care provider at taxpayer expense.
“(Now) the veteran is at the center of his health care, not the institution,” he said, repeating a line he has delivered to Congress multiple times in recent months. “And if there is something we cannot provide, he has the option of going to [the] private sector or waiting for us to provide it. That is a sea change in terms of the way we operate.”
Those congressional appearances are part of a larger offensive by department officials against persistent charges that the upcoming changes will outsource too much of the department’s responsibilities and resources — “privatization of VA,” according to critics.
A coalition of congressional Democrats and veterans advocates are rallying against the looming changes, saying that pushing too many veterans into the private sector will hollow out the federal health care system.
On the other hand, President Donald Trump has made “veterans’ choice” a key talking point of his stump speeches since last summer, praising his administration’s success at bringing better and more convenient care to veterans even before the new rules are in place.
The 56-year-old Wilkie — a longtime conservative operative who has held key leadership posts under presidents and members of Congress for three decades — is left in the middle, working to calm critics and turn the commander-in-chief’s boasts into reality.
Already well-known and controversial in the veterans community, Wilkie is poised to see his public profile grow even larger — whether he wants it or not — as that June 6 deadline approaches.
For his part, the secretary calls this “the greatest transformative period in the history of our VA” and says that the changes will dramatically improve operations and public perception of the sprawling veterans bureaucracy, which employs more than 400,000 people and could see its budget swell to nearly $220 billion next year.
And, he says, the department is ready for it.
A family tradition
Wilkie served in both the Air Force Reserve and Navy Reserve, but he rarely goes into any detail about his time in the military when speaking publicly on veterans issues.
He does talk extensively about his family’s military lineage. His great-grandfather served in the final Allied offensive of World War II. His father earned three Purple Hearts and five Bronze Stars during the Vietnam War and was severely injured during the invasion of Cambodia before Wilkie was a teenager.
“He had a lifetime of chronic pain,” he said. “But what made his life more difficult was that there was only one record of his medical care and that was 800 pages.”
The difficulties his family faced navigating the veterans health system inform his work today. Pictures of those family members occupy Wilkie’s sparsely decorated office in Washington, D.C., along with several other family mementos.
And, on the wall opposite his desk is the placard from his previous job as Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, which Wilkie himself didn’t get to see much during that Pentagon stint.
Within three months of being confirmed for the job, Trump tapped him to serve as acting VA secretary, following David Shulkin’s dismissal — a messy firing over Twitter that spurred questions about Trump’s volatility and the legality of operations at the department.
Then, two months into that assignment, Trump announced during a White House event on criminal justice reform that Wilkie would be tapped as the permanent replacement. Wilkie was visibly surprised by the announcement.
“Jim Mattis [the former defense secretary, who was Wilkie’s boss at the time] will tell you it was a surprise to him, too,” Wilkie said.
The current secretary is reluctant to speak about Shulkin’s dismissal, which came amid tensions between VA leadership and the White House over a host of policy issues. Shulkin, the first non-veteran to hold the top VA job, was also an Obama administration holdover who received lavish praise from Trump initially but was the subject of his scorn by the end.
In between, Trump nominated White House physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson to the post, only to see his candidacy withdrawn amid charges of workplace malfeasance. A year later, Wilkie says that his department has worked past “the turmoil” of that time.
“In the last eight months, this place has been fairly calm,” he said. “We’ve got a good leadership team in place now. Almost all of our leaders have extensive military experience. So they speak the language … The department did not have that leadership team in place in the time before I got here.”
The privatization fight
The turmoil has been replaced with an intense focus on the Mission Act, which includes an overhaul of VA caregiver support rules, plans for a base-closing-style commission for VA facilities and the new outside care rules. The measure was signed into law by Trump just a few weeks before Wilkie was sworn in as the department’s 10th secretary.
The caregiver rules and facility review will come later this year. But revising the outside care rules has been the primary challenge facing VA leadership since Wilkie walked into VA headquarters, located less than a block away from the White House.
Currently, taxpayer-funded private-sector medical appointments are available to veterans who live 40 miles from the nearest VA facility or face a wait of up to 30 days for care. The new rules, developed by Wilkie’s team, would extend eligibility to veterans who face a 20-day wait or a 30-minute care ride to a VA facility.
“It is not what it has been purported to be, and that is what I would call ‘libertarian choice,’” he said. “You don’t give a veteran a card and say, ‘thank you very much, the private sector is wide open to you.’”
“I’ve heard some people say that the changes in access standards and availability standards were arbitrary, capricious. Well, if they have that charge, they need to go to the members of Congress who wrote the Mission Act. Because the Mission Act gave me very clear instructions on how I come up with access standards.”
But critics are unhappy with more than just the rules as written. They say that Trump’s team is working to undermine VA health care as a viable enterprise, by promoting outside care as a better solution for veterans’ medical needs.
Groups such as Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans has voiced concerns that the messaging of the changes emphasizes convenience of care over quality. Outside doctors, they note, don’t necessarily have experience diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder or burn pit illnesses. They’d rather see efforts put into improving VA access options.
For Wilkie, it’s not an either-or option.
“Our spending on tele-health has gone up at an exponential rate in the last few years,” he said. “We’re on the cutting edge of using it for mental health issues. It also reaches into rural areas and, importantly, we’re allowed to [provide it across state lines], what the rest of the country can’t do.”
Asked if VA will be promoting outside care over VA care to veterans, Wilkie did not provide a direct answer.
“The Mission Act says up front that it’s the veterans’ health interest that is first and foremost. So that veteran will have a care team at VA who will speak with him and talk about the options for him.
“Nine times out of 10, he’s been probably going to stay with the people that he knows and the community he knows … The pull of the culture on people to be where they share experiences with others is very different from any other segment of the country.
“And as I said even as VA has had hiccups — and we’ve overcome those hiccups — we’ve actually seen the number of veterans asking to go into the private sector drop.”
A looming deadline
The rules changes could triple the number of veterans eligible for health care outside of the VA system, but VA has predicted that they will not see any substantial increase in usage of private care.
Congressional critics have called that laughable.
Last month, a group of 55 lawmakers — all Democrats — sent a seven-page letter to VA officials detailing concerns over how the new rules were crafted and their potential impact, calling it “the first step towards dismantling the system.”
It’s a charge that Trump has invited since before he took office, when he floated the idea of outsourcing some or all of veterans health care to private providers. It’s also an accusation Wilkie has had to combat since his first day in office.
He believes he has balanced being a cheerleader for the department with enacting the reforms mandated by Congress.
“When it comes to health care, the private sector is not always the best place,” he said. “The Journal of the American Medical Association, as you know, has said that when it comes to primary care and specialty care like cardiology, our wait times are good or better than any.
“We have same-day urgent care. We have same-day primary care. We have same-day mental health care. You can’t find that in most places in the United States.”
But, Wilkie points out, that isn’t the case for every veteran. Forcing them to wait longer or travel further just to protect the federal system isn’t in their best interests, and it goes against what the president and Congress have promised, he said.
Several members of Congress have suggested slowing the timeline for the implementation, especially in light of vet groups saying they weren’t included enough in the drafting process. Wilkie said he sees no need for a delay and is confident that the department will be ready.
That’s no small task.
Last fall, tens of thousands of veterans’ GI Bill benefits were disrupted because of problems with VA technology, issues that some outside groups had predicted months earlier. When the VA Choice program (the precursor to the Mission Act) was unveiled in 2014, similar problems caused massive delays in making payments to outside providers and scheduling appointments.
A recent review conducted by the U.S. Digital Service, a federal government group, raised the specter of similar problems affecting this effort.
Wilkie has pushed back on that and said in his Military Times interview he is assured the systems will be in place by June.
“But we also have in place, as any good military organization will have, redundancies that they will have another system supporting that to get our veterans what they need,” he said.
He is also confident that the changes will be embraced by veterans, even if those privatization charges continue to linger.
VA officials will appear before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to talk about the Mission Act implementation on Wednesday afternoon. Wilkie is also scheduled to testify about the upcoming changes again later this month, and plans to remind lawmakers that they — and not him — ultimately approved the changes.
“The Mission Act told us that we must provide veterans the option to go outside of our system if we don’t have that service,” Wilkie said. “The Mission Act told us that we had to do the market assessments … The Mission Act told us that we had to divide the country into regions for community care, and how to set up contracts so that we are able to pay private-sector doctors and private-sector hospitals.
“I am following the law that was laid out by the United States Senate and the United States House.”

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