The Defense bill is a disaster. I’ve scoured the press for more news on Bush’s bizarre claim of a ‘pocket veto,’ and am unable to find any more. No one is on the Hill today to answer calls or e-mails. This disaster means more unacceptable delays in obtaining medical care and benefits for our wounded, injured, and ill veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. On Monday, we need to demand that Congress assert their powers and take resolute action against obstructionist White House tactics.
The key element of the controversy surrounding the Defense bill is that Bush thinks Congress is out of session, and Congress maintains they remain in session. Right now, the issue is a question of Constitutional process (Article 1, Section 7).
Under one interpretation, the Senate, and thus all of Congress, remains in session. The evidence for this interpretation is the fact the President did not make any "recess" appointments. This means Bush cannot, under our Constitution, utilize the ‘pocket veto.’
Under a second interpretation, only the Senate is in session and the House is out of session. The evidence for this interpretation is that the House "left instructions" for the President to communicate with them while they are out of town. This means that since the House originated HR 1585, the President may be able to use his ‘pocket veto’ to kill the Defense bill and our prized "Dignity of Wounded Warriors" legislation, S 1606, added to the large bill. Clearly, this is a legislative disaster.
Under the first interpretation, with Congress in session, the President has three choices to handle the bill:
#1) Sign it into law
#2) Do nothing, and it becomes law in ten days (excluding Sundays and holidays) on Jan. 2, 2008, or,
#3) Veto it. If the President vetoes it, then Congress can take the next step: either Congress overrides the President’s veto with a two-thirds vote, or Congress is unable to override the veto and the bill dies. Note: The ten day clock began on Dec. 19, and the bill becomes law on Jan. 2 if there is no Presidential veto.
Under the second interpretation, that Congress is out of session, this means the President has two choices:
#1) Sign it into law
#2) Do nothing, and the bill dies with a ‘pocket veto’
Here’s a chronology of the current Constitutional debate over the Defense bill:
- Dec. 12, 2007: The House passed the Defense bill, HR 1585, 370 – 49, according to the Library of Congress: http://thomas.loc.gov
- Dec. 14: The Senate passed it, 90 – 3.
- Dec. 19: Congress sent it to the President.
- Dec. 26: CNN shows the Senate remaining in session with Sen. Webb in charge.
- Dec. 28: The President announced he is going to ‘pocket veto’ the bill, which means killing the bill, because the President believes Congress has adjourned and is OUT of session, and unable to be present for an override vote.
- Dec. 28: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Bush’s ‘pocket veto’ is unviable. Click here for the VCS cite on that.
- Dec. 29: VCS denounces the President’s actions
- Dec. 29: Veterans and Military Families for Progress denounces the President’s actions both in the media and on Daily Kos
- Dec. 29: Empowering Veterans denounces the President’s actions
Politically, this is a devastating defeat for service members and veterans because of Bush’s rejection of the "Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act" provisions within HR 1585.
Bush showed he is anti-soldier and anti-veteran by announcing his disgraceful veto.
- Bush is on record as anti-soldier because he rejected the pay raise of those currently serving.
- Bush demonstrated he is anti-veteran because he rejected bi-partisan plans to improve the transition process under the Wounded Warrior bill portion of the Defense bill.
- Bush showed he is opposed to assisting our seriously wounded Gulf War veterans who demand the right to sue the Iraqi government for the horrible torture they endured for several months in 1990 and 1991 during Desert Storm while prisoners of war.
Here is background information on the need for our Gulf War veterans to be able to sue Iraq:
- Mar. 19, 2003, Gulf War veteran describes torture as prisoner of war during Desert Storm in 1991
- Apr. 4, 2002, lawsuit against Iraq by former U.S. prisoners of war
- Sep. 10, 1999, National Gulf War Resource Center statement in favor of allowing veterans to sue Iraq
- Undated, Gulf War veteran lawsuit against Iraq for illnesses associated with chemical exposures
After months of public debate between Congress and the White House, Bush’s excuse for his veto is a sudden and unexpected claim that the current Iraqi government should not be held liable for the debts of past governments
Bush’s claim is wrong. International precedent shows nations honor debts of prior administrations. For example, Germans paid reparations after World War II. After our American Revolution our new government agreed to pay the debts of the prior government. In addition, after our Revolution, our new government used seized British land to compensate our veterans. Bush’s argument for rejecting the bill is nonsense – he might as well say the Earth is flat.
Here’s my bottom line: The Walter Reed scandal was first reported in August 2003 on the front page of Wall Street Journal, and the first Congressional hearing on the broken transition process was held in October 2003. Then, Mark Benjamin covered it in Salon as many recall. There was little or no interest in Congress to provide any oversight of the President from Jan. 2001 through Dec. 2006. However, in early 2007, the Washington Post made the Walter Reed scandal front page news for several days. Dozens of additional hearings were held by Congress, and the result was the "Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors" provisions, originally S 1606, plus other pro-service member and pro-veteran provisions.
However, we are on the next-to-last day of 2007, and there are no reforms for our service members and veterans due to President Bush’s constant blocking efforts. The major veterans groups appear to be silent, as most are out of town for Christmas and New Years. In addition, the press has failed to properly define the Constitutional process issues or the substance of the bill.
President Bush should be personally held accountable for any veteran waiting for a medical appointment or a benefit check. The Sept. 11 attacks were six years ago, yet the DoD-to-VA transition remains a broken disaster. So far, 1.6 million U.S. service members have deployed to the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones. Of the 751,000 veterans of the two wars who moved out of the Pentagon's purview, the VA has already treated 264,000 new patients.
As clearly articulated by the Dole/Shalala Commission and the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission, the cost of Bush’s failure to plan is far too high for our veterans, with hundreds of thousands of veterans of all ages waiting longer to see doctors and have their claims approved. The very serious problems already faced by our new veterans that could have been mitigated if Bush had a plan include:
- increased divorces
- increased unemployment
- growing complaints of job discrimination, especially among the National Guard and Reserve
- increased drug abuse
- increased homelessness
- increased arrests
- and record numbers tragic suicides
How do we resolve this Constitutional debate over the Defense bill? VCS believes Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid should clearly state to the public that the full Congress is either in session or out of session. If Congress is out of session, then Congress must begin the legislative process all over again for the Defense bill. If Congress is in session, then Congress should promptly override President Bush’s veto, if, in fact, Bush actually sent an official veto message to Congress (in this case, the ‘pocket veto’ would not count). If Congress votes to override Bush’s veto, then Congress must remain alert for any dubious "signing statements" by the President.
Veterans for Common Sense
Post Office Box 15514
Washington, DC 20003
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