Military Update: Lawmakers, Bush under fire over concurrent receipt
House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republican leaders are urging President Bush to drop his veto threat and allow Congress to further ease the century-old law that bans “concurrent receipt” of full military retired pay and Department of Veteran Affairs’ disability compensation.
Capitol Hill sources said career retirees who now forfeit part or all of their earned annuities to draw tax-free VA disability pay are, with surprising effectiveness, threatening House Republicans with election defeat next year if they don’t back up words of support for concurrent receipt with action.
Action this year, if the Bush administration continues to oppose concurrent receipt, would be for Republicans to join Democrats in signing a discharge petition by Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., to force a vote on HR 303, legislation that would end the ban on concurrent receipt for all 710,000 retirees who served 20 or more years and have VA-rated disabilities.
Marshall’s petition has turned an uncomfortable spotlight on Republicans who co-sponsored HR 303, the Retired Pay Restoration Act, but balk at forcing a vote on it because Bush opposes the bill. Only one Republican, Tom Tancredo of Colorado, has signed the discharge petition.
Congressional sources said other Republicans have warned Hastert they, too, might break ranks if the White House can’t be persuaded to accept relaxation of the concurrent receipt ban before the August recess.
Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla., the bill’s author, is said to be pressing for the compromise the House reached last year before it fell victim to Bush’s veto threat. It would have allowed a five-year phase-in of full concurrent receipt for 90,000 of the most seriously disabled retirees, those with VA disability ratings of 60 percent or higher.
The Bilirakis compromise seems the high end of what House leaders might settle for during “high-level” discussions under way with the White House. The least costly step Congress might be able to take and still crow about would be to extend CRSC eligibility to all reserve retirees with combat-related disabilities. Only a few reserve retirees are eligible for CRSC under current law.
Steve Strobridge, government relations director of the Military Officers Association of America, said Marshall’s discharge petition “is putting great pressure on Republicans to do something so they don’t have to explain the inconsistency” of cosponsoring HR 303 but refusing to allow a vote. Proponents “hope and expect substantive progress” on easing the concurrent receipt ban this year, Strobridge said.
If it happens, Congress and the White House will be going against the advice of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In a July 8 letter to the House Armed Services Committee chairman, Rumsfeld opposed concurrent receipt saying the Senate’s unfunded plan to eliminate the ban altogether would cost $57 billion over 10 years and drain resources from more important personnel programs.