Gavel Down: Closing out the Week in Congress (Oct. 24-28, 2016)

6 min read


So about those reenlistment overpayments …

This week lawmakers from both sides of the aisle called for the Pentagon to suspend efforts to reclaim reenlistment bonuses. How's this relate to legislation currently pending in Congress? Keep reading!

Reenlistment bonuses  |  Congress Goes Home  |  Around the Capital   Around the Country  |  Around the World  

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle called for Pentagon to suspend efforts to reclaim overpayments, 

Pentagon agreed to resolve cases

This week you heard a lot about unauthorized reenlistment bonuses in the news, and lawmakers had plenty to say about it. In fact, two lawmakers already announced plans to introduce related legislation.

So what exactly happened?
Thousands of National Guard members were enticed to re-enlist after receiving large bonuses of $15,000 or more. Several years later, a federal investigation revealed overpayments by the California National Guard, so the Pentagon ordered soldiers to repay the bonuses — often with interest charges, wage garnishments, and tax liens.

How long has this been going on?
In some cases, over a decade.

Did this only happen in California?
Bonus overpayments occurred in every state, but more so in California, which has 17,000 soldiers — the highest amount in the country.

How did lawmakers respond?
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle urged the Defense Department to suspend collection of the bonuses. In fact, there was agreement across branches of government as President Obama said the Defense Department should not “nickel and dime” service members.

How did the Pentagon respond?
Defense Secretary Ash Carter promised to resolve the cases and asked the Pentagon to suspend efforts to reclaim reenlistment bonuses.

So what now?
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy called for a long-term legislative solution to ensure this type of situation does not happen again, echoed by Speaker Ryan who said Congress will work “to protect service members from lifelong liability for DOD’s mistakes.” Sens. Dianne Feinstein [D, CA] and Barbara Boxer [D, CA] announced they will introduce legislation to allow service members to keep their reenlistment bonuses. Meanwhile, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform launched an investigation, requesting relevant documents.

Does this have anything to do with the annual defense authorization?
Glad you asked! You may have heard about that because of a dispute with the 2015 authorization. Reps. Paul Cook [R,CA-8] and Jeff Denham [R, CA-10] pushed for a debt waiver amendment but abandoned the effort after being told the Pentagon already had the power to waive debts. Guard officials said they were told the measure was not included because it would require cuts elsewhere in the defense budget.

What's it got to do with this year's defense authorization?
Well the House-passed NDAA includes a provision that would would establish a 10-year statute of limitations on the military's ability to recover overpayments.

When lawmakers return next month, they’ll work to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions. Learn more about both versions and use POPVOX to tell your lawmakers what you think!

Lawmakers unveiled bipartisan Medicare reform legislation

A bipartisan group of senators released draft legislation to reform Medicare. The legislation, known as the Chronic Care Act, targets chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, with the objective of coordinating treatments to improve efficiency. 

Provisions include:

  • Expanding a Medicare pilot program to send doctors and nurses to care for people at their homes
  • Increasing the use of telehealth, technologies and devices used to deliver virtual medical services
  • Improving flexibility for doctors who are paid based on coordinated care for patients

Lawmakers will introduce a final version upon returning to the Hill.


What were your lawmakers up to this week?

Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R, FL-27] and Frederica Wilson [D, FL-24] will travel to Haiti this weekend to examine hurricane relief efforts.

Rep. Bennie Thompson [D, MS-2] requested an audit from the Government Accountability Office regarding presidential campaign expenses.

Rep. Barbara Comstock [R, VA-10] reminded students to enter the Congressional App Challenge

Sen. Dick Durbin [D, IL] stopped by an event aimed at disposing of opioids properly. 

Sen. Mitch McConnell [R, KY] spoke about Kentucky's high intensity drug trafficking area (HIDTA) designation.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand [D, NY] congratulated the first 10 women to pass the Army's Infantry Officer Leader Course. 

Rep. Ryan Costello [R, PA-6] wrote an op-ed pushing for 21st Century Cures Act

Del. Eleanor Norton Holmes [D, DC] held roundtable to discuss biking and walking projects in Washington, D.C. 

Sen. Jon Tester [R, MT] hosted listening tour to take suggestions for the farm bill.

Rep. Donna Edwards [D, MD-4] wrote an op ed, praising the Head Start program.

Sen. Ted Cruz [R, TX] said there's precedent to keeping the ninth Supreme Court seat empty.

#ICYMI: Around the Capital

#ICYMI: Around the Country

#ICYMI: Around the World

Congress is back home working, and we're sending a recess version of Gavel Down — full of how current events relate to Congressional happenings, as well as updates on major legislation. Please keep in mind that highlighting a bill does not imply POPVOX endorsement in any way. As always, our goal is to offer one more way to help you stay informed about the complex U.S. legislative system.