REPUBLICANS GAIN CONTROL OF CONGRESS
The Republican Party strengthened its control of the House of Representatives and won control of the Senate in the November elections. In the House of Representatives, the Republicans now hold a 21-seat majority over the Democrats, a nine seat increase. There is one seat still undecided in Hawaii, which will be determined by the voters on January 4. The Republicans also regained control of the Senate with a four-seat majority. The Democrats had been in control by one seat before the elections. There is one seat still undecided in Louisiana, which will be determined on December 7.
As a result, Senate Democratic committee chairmen will be replaced by Republican minority leaders when the Senate reconvenes. Some of those changes include the Armed Services Committee, which will be chaired by Sen. John W. Warner (R-VA), who chaired the committee from 1999 until mid-2001; the Appropriations Committee, which will be chaired by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK), who chaired the committee from 1997 until mid-2001; and the Veterans Affairs Committee, which will be chaired by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who chaired the committee from 1997 until mid-2001.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee suffered a loss when member Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) died in a plane crash with his wife, daughter and three staff members on October 25.
PRESIDENT SIGNS DEFENSE BILLS
On October 23, President George W. Bush signed the defense and military construction appropriations bills, which provide a $37 billion increase over last year’s spending. The President called the bills "a clear signal to friend and foe alike, that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to defend our freedom--the United States of America will stay the course."
The appropriations bill includes:
- An across the board 4.1 percent pay raise with targeted pay raises up to 6.5 percent for mid-grade officers and NCOs.
- A reduction in out-of-pocket expenses for housing from 11.3 percent to 7.5 percent.
- Full funding for the defense health care program including Tricare For Life.
- Cancellation of Crusader, with previously programmed funds transferred to indirect fire support alternatives.
- Full funding for Future Combat System, Stryker, Comanche, Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle, and other Army Transformation programs.
- Full funding for Abrams, Bradley, Black Hawk, Chinook and Apache upgrades.
- $1.25 billion for Army ammunition accounts, $94 million more than the President’s budget request.
- $7.8 billion for ballistic missile defense.
- $100 million more than the President’s budget request for Guard and Reserve equipment procurement.
The Military Construction Bill provides for $10.5 billion for building and upgrading military installations and for military family housing.
At the time we went to press, the defense authorization bill, which will allow the pay raise to go into effect, had passed both houses of Congress and was on its way to the White House for the President’s signature.
GI BILL BENEFIT TAKES EFFECT
On October 1, the monthly benefit from the Montgomery GI Bill increased from $800 to $900. The Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001 authorized three increases which will raise the lifetime benefit from $24,192 (prior to October 1, 2001) to $35,460 on October 1, 2003. The final monthly increase, to $985, will take effect next October 1.