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Disclaimer: The author of this site maintained the campaign weblog of John Kline's opponent in the 2006 election, which made Congressman Kline a bit testy.

As with all blogs, review the facts carefully and draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Kline's Effort to Show Support for Veterans Backfires

[Disclaimer: This post was first published on Coleen Rowley's campaign weblog.]

Last Friday, John Kline sent around his fourth glossy mailer of the campaign. In a first for Kline, this mailer actually discusses his record on something: veterans issues. However, true to form, one of the four pages is devoted to smearing Coleen. The smears are nonsense, of course, and judging by the turnout at John Murtha's recent show of support for Coleen at the Rosemount VFW Hall, most veterans know that.

Kline's mailer makes two claims about his record of support for veterans. One section blares that Kline is "Supporting Disabled Veterans". This is no doubt a response to the 0% rating he received from the Disabled American Veterans in 2004 and 2005. Another proclaims that Kline is "Improving Veterans Benefits". Each section cites one example of legislation to back up the claim.

It is true that these bills help veterans. But Kline's record on these bills shows less support for veterans than you might think; in one case, much less.

Kline's mailer doesn't specify the legislation he supported (e.g. H.R. 5385), making it difficult to fact-check his claims. This already suggests he's trying to sweep something under the rug. But one bill is described as the "Military Quality of Life and Veterans' Affairs Bill" passed this year, which is pretty clearly H.R. 5385. This bill does indeed improve veterans benefits, and John Kline deserves credit for voting for it. In the same way, Betty McCollum, Jim Oberstar, Collin Peterson and Martin Sabo deserve credit for voting for it, as do all of the other Democrats in Congress. As a matter of fact, every single member of Congress who was present that day voted for this bill; it passed 395-0. So while John Kline's vote was indeed a good thing, it was in no way exceptional.

The other bill Kline talks about has to do with 'concurrent receipt', which addresses a problem Kline accurately explains as follows:

" . . . for every dollar a disabled veteran received in disability benefits, that dollar was removed from their pension. It penalized veterans for injuries they received in service to their country."

Instead of this reduction, disabled veterans should receive 'concurrent receipt' of both their pension and disability benefits. Kline claims that, as a member of the Armed Services Committee, he "helped negotiate the agreement that ended this unfair policy". Since he doesn't tell us which bill he "helped negotiate", we can't get into its specifics. But research reveals some interesting tidbits about concurrent receipt.

First, this "unfair policy" hasn't ended; rather, it is being slowly phased out over a 10-year period. And even then, veterans whose disabilities are rated at less than 50% will still be subject to a reduction in their pension. Second, Congress hasn't enacted any single law which implements concurrent receipt: according to the Disabled American Veterans, there are at least four (PDF). No doubt one of these is the one Kline supported.

"The efforts of Congress to eliminate the unfair offset incrementally have resulted in a number of programs with different eligibility requirements. This piecemeal approach was utilized by members of the presiding committees to escape mounting public pressure, while still avoiding paying the cost of an outright fix."

. . .

"Many disabled veterans are confused by the various eligibility requirements, and no headway has been made in recent years to rectify the injustice toward disabled retirees rated 40 percent and below."

(The DAV has a great deal more to say about the erosion of veterans' benefits under our Republican-led government.)

However, the most startling fact about Kline's claim to have "ended this unfair policy" is that Kline has steadfastly ignored a bill which would grant concurrent receipt to all veterans immediately, even though as a member of the Armed Services Committee, he might well have been able to usher it into law. This bill was introduced as H.R. 303 in each of the last two sessions of Congress.

The history is truly striking. Here is a timeline of actions which have been taken on H.R. 303:

  • January 8, 2003 - H.R. 303 is introduced in the House by Florida Republican Mike Bilirakis at the start of the 108th Congress. It is immediately referred to the House Armed Services Committee on which John Kline sits.
  • February 3, 2003 - H.R. 303 is referred to the subcommittee on Total Force, where it sits for months.
  • May 22, 2003 - Georgia Democrat Jim Marshall introduces H.Res. 251 for the sole purpose of bringing H.R . 303 to the floor for a vote. It is immediately referred to the Rules Committee and never heard from again.
  • June 12, 2003 - Marshall begins circulating a discharge petition to force a floor vote on H.R. 303. If 218 members sign it, the House leadership will be forced to bring it to the floor.
  • November 7, 2003 - Marshall makes a motion to recommit the National Defense Authorization Act to committee, so that full implementation of concurrent receipt can be added. The motion fails, 188-217, with John Kline voting against it.
  • December 20, 2004 - The 108th Congress ends with H.R. 303 still in committee. The bill dies with a bipartisan list of 383 cosponsors; John Kline is not among them. The discharge petition contains 207 names, just eleven short of forcing a vote, but does not include John Kline.
  • January 25, 2005 - Bilirakis reintroduces H.R. 303 at the start of the 109th Congress. It is once again referred to the House Armed Services Committee on which John Kline sits.
  • February 18, 2005 - H.R. 303 is referred to the subcommittee on Military Personnel, where it once again languishes.
  • May 10, 2005 - Marshall once again tries to force H.R. 303 to a floor vote by introducing H.Res. 270. Once again, Marshall's bill is referred to the Rules Committee, and once again, it is ignored.
  • May 24, 2005 - Marshall once again starts circulating a discharge petition.
  • September 15, 2006 - John Kline sends a mailer to the district claiming that his work has "ended this unfair policy" of reducing disabled veterans' pensions.
  • Today - H.R. 303 is still stuck in a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. It has 239 cosponsors, none of whom are John Kline. The discharge petition has 191 signatures and once again, John Kline's is not among them.

So the truth is that as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, John Kline had the opportunity to champion a full and immediate implementation of concurrent receipt by insuring that a bipartisan bill with hundreds of cosponsors made it to the House floor. But he has chosen to let it languish in committee --- twice; he has failed to sign a discharge petition to get it to the House floor --- twice; he has even failed to make the token gesture of cosponsoring the bill --- twice; and on at least one occasion (there may have been others), when given the opportunity to include it as an amendment to a bill, Kline voted no.

And yet he proudly proclaims the work he's done to enact a partial and gradual implementation of concurrent receipt as one of his major achievements for veterans.

Update: This post addresses a policy of reducing a disabled veteran's pension by the amount of his disability benefit, when our veterans deserve 'concurrent receipt' of both benefits. Earlier versions of this post mistakenly identified 'concurrent receipt' as the reduction in pension.

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