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Senate Passes Defense Appropriations Bill With Funds For Military Health Care

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Military Health Care

The Senate on Monday voted 92-3 to approve a $648 billion defense authorization bill (HR 1585) that includes nearly $950 million for military health care in fiscal year 2008, the Washington Timesreports. The bill now heads into conference with the House version.However, President Bush has said he would veto the legislation becauseof a provision that would protect gays under federal hate-crime laws.If it is vetoed, Bush would be the first president to veto a defenseauthorization bill (Miller, Washington Times, 10/2).

Fouramendments were added to the bill on Thursday. One of the amendmentswould bar most personality disorder discharges from the military untilthe Pentagon submits a report on such discharges. Another amendmentwould ensure wounded veterans receive transitional care from themilitary for 180 days from the time the servicemember is separated fromactive duty. A third amendment would extend for one year currentprohibitions on raising military health care fees and prescription drugcopayments. The final amendment would permit National Guard and reservemembers who have served two years of active-duty service to receiveaccelerated G.I. Bill educational benefits (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 10/1).

Bush, who recently signed into law a continuing budget resolution (HJ Res 52),has threatened to veto eight of the 12 appropriations bills. Meanwhile,Democrats "challenged the president to be more open to negotiationinstead of insisting his own budget targets be met," The Hill reports (Snyder, The Hill, 10/2).

Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Bill

Congressional Democrats are considering making the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill (HR 3043) the "next major domestic policy fight" with Bush after the debate over SCHIP reauthorization and expansion, according to CongressDaily.Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to begin debate on the$150 billion bill as early as Oct. 15, and according to sources, aconference committee "could quickly reconcile" differences between theHouse and Senate versions, CongressDaily reports.

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TheHouse has approved its version of the Labor-HHS-Educationappropriations bill, but the measure did not pass with a veto-proofmajority. Bush has threatened to veto the House bill because itcontains $11 billion more than he requested. The Senate legislation (S 1710) contains about $9 billion more than Bush requested.

According to CongressDaily,the tactic Democrats will use in fighting for the Labor-HHS-Educationspending bill will be similar to the standoff over SCHIP, "whichDemocrats perceive as a political winner despite lacking the votes tooverride a veto." Senate Appropriations Labor, HHS, Education and Related Agencies SubcommitteeChair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said sending Bush the Labor-HHS-Educationbill would "demonstrate to the American people what our priorities areas Democrats. The priorities are health and education, human services,making sure the (Low Income Home Energy Assistance) program has enoughmoney, making sure Pell Grants go out, making sure we have funding forbiomedical research, cancer research, that's a very high priority,"adding, "For the Republicans, it's not a very high priority, and that'swhy we're going to show that."

According to CongressDaily,Senate approval of the measure "is shaping up to be at least a weeklongbattle with contentious debate over stem cell language," which alsocould draw a veto threat from Bush, as well as funding priorities andearmarks. A Senate GOP aide said Democrats will pay a political priceif they "hold hostage" spending bills for veterans' programs and theIraq war by prioritizing domestic programs (Cohn, CongressDaily, 10/2).

Opinion Piece

The U.S. "economy is confronting a very serious problem" as aging babyboomers begin retiring, "which will explode the cost of federal healthand retirement programs, Senate Budget Committee Chair Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) write in a Manchester Union Leaderopinion piece. They continue, "Health care entitlements and SocialSecurity alone will absorb an increasingly larger portion of thefederal budget ... and there is not a contingency plan in place."

Conradand Gregg write that they "believe the solution lies in a balanced,bipartisan approach. Therefore, we have come together to offer theBipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action Act." According toConrad and Gregg, the task force "will be charged with authoringbipartisan legislation to immediately begin addressing the nation'sfiscal challenges" and "is designed to produce legislative solutionsthat Congress must vote on, not just bury in political debate."

Theyadd, "The choices are difficult now, but the longer we wait, the harderthey will become. The time for action is now" (Conrad/Gregg, ManchesterUnion Leader, 9/30).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, afree service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.