Article

Military: Soldiers Get Stiffed

The House passed a comprehensive defense spending bill by a 397-27 vote, but the White House is threatening to veto it because of a 3.5 percent military pay raise.

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GOOD NEWS

In a 220 to 208 vote, the House yesterday ignored a veto threat from President Bush and “demanded that the administration develop a plan to transfer detainees from the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”


STATE WATCH

KANSAS: Kansas plans to increase transparency of spending by placing state records online.

CALIFORNIA: While slashing spending on social services, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R) staff’s salaries are “among the fastest growing in state government.”

IMMIGRATION: Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ) and Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) write a letter to President Bush criticizing him for sending their Border Patrol agents to Iraq.


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Gen. Petraeus: September report on escalation will not say “anything definitive.”

MEDIA MATTERS: ABC and CBS have not yet reported on Deputy Attorney General James Comey’s revelations about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping.

TAPPED: Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s legal concepts are “at war with the best traditions of American constitutionalism.”

ENOUGH: “Why is the Bush administration afraid to punish those responsible for what it calls genocide?”


DAILY GRILL

“We must keep our word, defeat our enemies, and stand behind the American military in its vital mission.”
— President Bush, 1/31/06

VERSUS

“Bush budget officials said the administration ‘strongly opposes’ both the 3.5 percent raise for 2008 and the follow-on increases, calling extra pay increases ‘unnecessary.'”
— Army Times, 5/16/07


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 May 18, 2007
Soldiers Get Stiffed
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Soldiers Get Stiffed

Yesterday, the House passed a comprehensive $646 billion defense spending bill by an overwhelming vote of 397-27. The bill authorizes “more than $100 billion in military procurement. That includes money to buy new protective vehicles and body armor for troops, and an additional $142 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” But the White House is threatening to veto the bill because it objects to, among other things, a recommended 3.5 percent military pay raise for 2008, with further increases in 2009 through 2012. The increases are “intended to reduce the gap between military and civilian pay that stands at about 3.9 percent today.” Even after the proposed increases, the gap will still remain at 1.4 percent. In a statement of administration policy released Wednesday, White House budget officials said the administration “strongly opposes” the pay raise provision because, according to them, extra pay increases are “unnecessary.” The White House is also objecting to a $40 monthly allowance for military survivors, additional benefits for surviving family members of civilian employees, and price controls for prescription drugs under Tricare, the military’s health care plan for military personnel and their dependents. Bush’s veto threat is holding captive all the funding contained in the bill.

VETO IS AN ‘OUTRAGE’: “This is a strong bill that addresses our military’s critical readiness needs, supports our troops in the field and at home and protects the American people,” said Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Veterans groups and members of Congress are rightly outraged at the administration’s callous veto threat. “The president just vetoed legislation so he would be able to send more troops into the middle of the Iraqi…civil war — without end, mind you — but is against increasing benefits to the spouses of those lost, or a pay increase for those who are serving,” wrote Jon Soltz, the co-founder of VoteVets.org, yesterday. “If there’s a more fitting definition of ‘outrage,’ I’d love to see it.” Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) said, “The President is a lot of talk when it comes to supporting the troops and their families. … But actions matter and when it comes to the treatment of our troops and their families, our resources must match our rhetoric.”

INCREASING STRAINS:
 In April, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that he was “extending the tours of duty for active duty Army troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from 12 to 15 months.” To no surprise, many soldiers reacted to the forced extensions with “anger,” “frustration,” and a “collective groan.” The White House is now facing increased pressure “to ease the strain on the lives of military families suffering as a result of the extended tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and frequent redeployment.” Estrangement from family back home is one of the more significant problems for soldiers facing extended tours. The divorce rate of active-duty soldiers has risen sharply with increased deployments. In 2004, 7,152 enlisted personnel’s marriages ended in divorce, up 28 percent from 2003 and 53 percent from 2000; the rate is still increasing. A recent Pentagon report also found that the more soldiers are deployed, the more likely they are to “suffer mental health problems such as combat trauma, anxiety and depression,” contributing to increased problems at home. A provision in the defense bill passed by the House yesterday, aimed at helping soldiers struggling with divorce at home, preventing them from “permanently losing custody of their children because of the absence.” But with Bush’s veto threat, that legal relief is now in jeopardy.

LACKING PROTECTION: The Army began the Iraq war with an estimated $56 billion equipment shortage. Since then, soldiers and their families have been complaining that troops on the ground have not been provided with the protective gear and equipment they need. In 2004, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was famously confronted at a townhall discussion by an active-duty soldier in Kuwait, who asked him, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to uparmor our vehicles?” As recently as February, U.S. Army units in Iraq and Afghanistan lacked more than 4,000 of “the latest Humvee armor kit, known as the FRAG Kit 5,” which is specifically “designed to reduce U.S. troop deaths from roadside bombs…that are now inflicting 70 percent of the American casualties” in Iraq. Shortages in body armor for troops have also been a constant problem, forcing many families to buy the armor on their own, “despite assurances from the military that the gear will be in hand before they’re in harm’s way.” A Defense Department audit released in January found that many soldiers have been sent to Iraq “without enough guns, ammunition, and other necessary supplies to ‘effectively complete their missions’ and have had to cancel and postpone some assignments while waiting for the proper gear.” Even the Army’s so-called “ready brigade” has found that with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sapping resources, they are no longer quite so ready. For decades, a brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division has been ready to respond to a crisis anywhere in 18 to 72 hours, but now, its soldiers are not fully trained and much of it’s equipment, including the cargo aircraft that is supposed to carry it to emergency, is disbursed elsewhere.

RUMSFELD REDUX: The Bush administration’s military priorities were clear the moment former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took control of the Pentagon. Barely six months into their Department of Defense tenure, Rumsfeld and his aides sought “deep personnel cuts to the Army, Navy and Air Force in order to pay for new high-tech weaponry and missile defenses.” The belief in technology over manpower has resulted in policies that ignore the real human concerns of those who wear the uniform. In Aug. 2003, just six months after the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon sought to deny the 157,000 troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan a promised pay increase of “$75 a month in ‘imminent danger pay’ and $150 a month in ‘family separation allowances.'” The Defense Department at the time defended cutting the added benefits, “saying its budget can’t sustain the higher payments amid a host of other priorities.” The proposed cuts angered military families and veterans’ groups and even received an editorial attack in the Army Times. The editorial noted that “Bush’s tax cuts have left little elbow room” in the federal budget “and the squeeze is on across the board.” Though Congress ultimately approved of the pay increase and the Bush administration backpedaled in its opposition.

Under the Radar

ADMINISTRATION — WHITE HOUSE USES GEN. PETRAEUS AS PR FLACK TO PROMOTE WAR CZAR: Ever since President Bush announced his escalation policy, war supporters have relied on the credibility of Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, to deflect criticism. Earlier this month, Bush mentioned Petraeus by name no fewer than 12 times in a speech arguing for his strategy in Iraq, at one point saying that “the best messenger, by the way, for us is David Petraeus.” But the manner in which the administration has rolled out Petraeus to help sell its war policy at home is threatening that credibility. In a fact sheet released to reporters yesterday about Bush’s new war czar, both Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker are quoted in a manner more suited for use on a book jacket. “Doug Lute knows Iraq, the region, and Washington, and he’ll be a great addition to the team that is striving to achieve success in Iraq. He is also a doer,” the fact sheet quotes Petraeus as saying. “I look forward to working closely with LTG Doug Lute in the coming months. His knowledge and experience will make him a valuable partner to our efforts in Iraq,” adds Crocker. Yesterday, ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked White House spokesman Tony Snow if his press office had solicited quotes from a uniformed military officer, and, if so, whether that was appropriate. Snow dodged both questions, instead offering a sarcastic remark. “[I]t’s clearly a burning issue so we’ll look into it for you” (see the video HERE). The Lute press release is another example of Rep. John Murtha’s (D-PA) contention that the White House has been using Petraeus as a political prop for their failing Iraq policy. 

ENVIRONMENT — HURRICANE CHIEF SAYS ADMINISTRATION IS WASTING MILLIONS ON PR CAMPAIGN:
National Hurricane Center director Bill Proenza said yesterday that the Bush administration is “spending millions of dollars on a publicity campaign that could be used to plug budget shortfalls hurricane forecasters are struggling with.” The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is spending up to $4 million to publicize a 200th anniversary celebration while the agency has cut $700,000 from hurricane research, Proenza said. He told reporters, “No question about it, it is not justified. … It is using appropriated funds for self promotion.” An NOAA spokesman defended the publicity campaign. “It’s part of our responsibility to tell the American people what we do,” the spokesman said. “It’s inaccurate and unfair to just characterize this as some sort of self-celebration.” USA Today reports, “The six-month hurricane season begins June 1 and private forecasters are predicting it will be busy, with 17 named storms — five of them major hurricanes — expected to form over the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.”

ETHICS — GONZALES ALLOWS KARL ROVE-PROTEGE TO REMAIN AS U.S. ATTORNEY, EVEN THOUGH HIS TERM HAS EXPIRED:
On Jan. 18, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee, under oath, that he never intended to take advantage of a Patriot Act provision that allows the President to appoint “interim” U.S. attorneys for an indefinite period of time, without Senate confirmation. He promised that “with respect to every United States attorney position in this country, we will have a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney.” Similarly, on Dec. 15, 2006, Gonzales personally assured Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) that Karl Rove-protege Tim Griffin would face Senate confirmation. Before the Patriot Act was changed in 2005, the Attorney General could appoint interim U.S. attorneys to serve for a maximum of 120 days. After that time period, they needed to receive Senate confirmation or the federal district court in the vacant office’s district would name a replacement. Griffin’s 120 days were up on April 20, yet the Bush administration has not named a replacement candidate. In early March, Rep. John Boozman (R-AR) said that he was “interviewing candidates to recommend as replacements for Griffin.” The Progress Report spoke with Boozman’s office, which confirmed that on March 30, the congressman submitted three names to the White House to replace Griffin. His office said that it has not heard from the administration on the state of the process. Griffin remains as the U.S. attorney in Arkansas and has stated that he is ready and willing to serve until the end of President Bush’s term. If Gonzales had been serious about installing “a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed United States attorney,” he would have replaced Griffin by now. Evidently, he instead plans to “gum to death” the process.


Think Fast

The search for three missing Americans taken during Saturday’s ambush enters its seventh day. “Thousands of soldiers” sifting through the tips from Iraqis “has become the hub of the manhunt.” Most have led nowhere — “deliberately so in some cases, many Americans suspect.” The false alarms “highlight the challenge American troops face…in a Sunni stronghold where many residents resent the American presence.”

“Sources yesterday identified four additional prosecutors who were considered for termination, bringing to 30 the number of prosecutors who were placed on Justice Department firing lists between February 2005 and December 2006. That accounts for about a third of the nation’s 93 U.S. attorney positions. Nine were fired last year.”

68: Percentage of Americans who support federal hate crime legislation for gays and lesbians, according to a Gallup poll, including 60 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of weekly churchgoers.

Several senators have urged President Bush to withdraw his nomination of Michael Baroody — a corporate lobbyist picked to lead the Consumer Product Safety Commission — “saying the candidate was unqualified and the appointment posed insurmountable conflicts of interest.” 

“YouTube’s co-founders on Thursday challenged the Pentagon’s assertion that soldiers overseas were sapping too much bandwidth by watching online videos.” Chief Executive Chad Hurley “expressed doubt that soldiers’ use of YouTube could have any real effect on the military’s massive network.”

The House Judiciary Committee passed a controversial lobbying reform bill, but were forced to strip “a two-year moratorium on lobbying by former lawmakers and staff” over bipartisan opposition. The panel also “sidestepped or rejected several other proposals meant to beef up the bill, including a hotly disputed call to force lobbyists conducting grass-roots campaigns to register.”

Speaking of Paul Wolfowitz’s resignation from the World Bank, a “former colleague who served with Wolfowitz in four administrations said that ‘the kinds of problems he got into were predictable for anybody who really knew Paul.'” The source “voiced admiration for his intellect but said Wolfowitz ‘couldn’t run a two-car funeral.'”

“A bipartisan group of senators is pushing legislation that would force the CIA to release an inspector general’s report on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” The CIA is the only federal agency to not make a version of such a report public.

And finally: While moving around office furniture, Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-MT) staff found an “old document.” The document, “a citizens’ petition in favor of women’s suffrage” that dated back to 1910, was turned over to the National Archives. Tester’s staffers were a bit bummed when they found out it will remain at the Archives. “We had no idea — we thought we could just hang it up on the wall,” says Tester spokesman Matt McKenna.