Monday, November 21, 2005

Senate Republicans Kill Two Bills To Help Veterans

We all know based on the actions against Representative John Murtha (D-PA) last week what House Republicans think of Veterans and, as they have demonstrated all year, the GOP-controlled Senate has once again shown their true colors when it comes to standing with both Veterans and those on active duty.

Two amendments to the Tax Relief Act of 2005 – one that sought to make combat pay of those serving in Iraq eligible for the earned-income tax credit and another to fund an additional $500 million for post-traumatic stress and substance abuse counseling for returning Vets -- were killed by Senate Republicans late last week.

An amendment (S.Amdt. 2616) sponsored by John Kerry (D-MA) and Barack Obama (D-IL) would have extended the poverty-reducing, earned-income tax credit to the combat pay earned by soldiers on active duty in Iraq.

The amendment, argued Obama on the Senate floor, would "... ensure that the families of our men and women in combat are not deprived of their tax benefits."

"In the midst of war, are we really going to tell our troops that their combat pay doesn't count as earned income for purposes of calculating tax credits?" said the Illinois Senator. "That is hard to imagine. Our troops not only earn their combat pay, but they have also earned our respect. They deserve our commitment of support."

It was defeated with 55 votes in favor of passage and 60 votes required. Every Democrat voted in favor, while all votes against were cast by Republicans.

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) proposed an amendment (S.Amdt. 2634) to the Tax Relief bill that would have provided additional funding "... for readjustment counseling, related mental health services, and treatment and rehabilitative services for veterans with mental illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, or substance use disorder."

"This amendment is backed by the American Legion, AMVETS, and Disabled American Veterans," said Boxer, in pleading for passage of the amendment. "We pay for this in a very simple way. We say the tax cuts of 2001 that have not yet taken effect for those earning over $1 million a year be deferred. We find that when we pay for this $500 million, we have millions left over to reduce the deficit."

Boxer should have known that mentioning where the money would come from – in this case, America's wealthiest people – would doom her bill in the GOP Senate. But she closed her floor argument by quoting an e-mail from the wife of an Iraq War Veteran who committed suicide upon his return.

"I got an e-mail from a woman who was married to Captain Michael Jon Pelkey, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for over a year. He sought help on several occasions but was discouraged by the wait time and the stigma," said Boxer.

Boxer then read directly from the e-mail which said "Michael passed away in our home at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest on November 5, 2004. I feel that my husband is a casualty of this war and to date the Army has not done enough for post-traumatic stress."

"I know millionaires in California, and I know they would give up a tax cut to help our veterans who are fighting in deplorable conditions every single day," said Boxer. "I hope my colleagues will take a stand for our veterans and say to the millionaires of this country: We know you want to help them."

Senate Democrats could only get one Republican vote for Boxer's amendment – Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) – and the measured died 55-43.

Pass this information on to any Republican you know with a "support the troops" sticker on their car.