VFW Says Ending Sequestration is Top 2016 Priority


Members of the nation's oldest veterans' service organization will be lobbying to end sequestration this week when they appear before congressional committees and meetings with lawmakers in their offices.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars has a number of military- and veteran-related issues to talk up, but its top mission is to rid Washington of the automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that are scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 1 if Congress fails to pass a budget.

"Our members --  all voting constituents -- will use this face-to-face opportunity [with Congress] to demand ...  an end to the sequester," VFW National Commander John W. Stroud said. With the U.S. still at war, the cuts required under the sequester will devastate military readiness, homeland security, the quality-of-life of military families and veterans, he said.

The VSO leadership and an estimated 500 members gather in Washington annually to confer on veterans and defense issues and lobby Congress for them.

VFW officials will testify before joint sessions of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees on Wednesday and Thursday, where they will make their case for proper benefits and healthcare funding for the Veterans Affairs Department.

The group's 2016 priorities list also seeks improved interoperability between VA and Defense Department records, continued safeguarding of the Post-9/11 GI Bill and for employment programs. The group's priorities also extend to defense and homeland security spending.

The sequester, officially the Budget Control Act, should be ended to "ensure defense funding supports quality of life programs for service members and families, training and readiness, troop end strength and equipment needs," the organization said.

"Everyone is against the sequester but no one has yet proposed legislation to end it," said Joe Davis, the VFW's national spokesman.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, and ranking member Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, have asked the Senate Budget to restore defense spending to pre-sequestration levels. That would be $577 billion in discretionary spending in addition to what is deemed necessary for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) -- that is, combat operations.

The Defense budget unveiled last week seeks $585 billion, including a $534 base budget and a $51 billion war budget -- an increase of about $25 billion, or 4 percent, more than the current year.

 Unless Congress ends sequestration or raises the spending caps -- as has been done the past two years -- the Pentagon will see about $35 billion cut from its next year's budget.

The $577 billion figure advocated by McCain and Reed would cover the Department of Defense as well as defense-related activities at the Energy Department, but not the OCO, which is exempt from the Budget Control Act.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, R-Texas, made the same funding pitch to the House Budget Committee.

McCain and Reed, in their letter to the Senate budget panel, said the Budget Control Act has been a "collective failure" on the part of the administration and Congress and that it's time it was scrapped.

Sequestration "was never supposed to happen," they wrote, but was designed to be "so destructive and unacceptable to our national security" that the President and Congress would be forced to be more prudent in federal spending.

"However, continuing to live with the unacceptable effects of sequestration is a choice ... Congress makes the laws," they wrote. "We can choose to end the debilitating effects of sequestration."

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com.

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