The U.S. Senate put the future of the defense budget into question Thursday by passing a sweeping defense policy bill but then rejecting a complimentary measure to pay for it.
The blocking of the fiscal 2016 defense spending bill was orchestrated by the Senate Democrats, part of a campaign against the use of “gimmicks” by the Republicans to boost the Pentagon’s budget.
The dispute centers around how the Republican-led budget handles the spending caps from the 2011 Budget Control Act — the so-called sequestration. The GOP plan sidesteps the mandatory restrictions put in place under the sequestration by putting $38 billion in special war contingency funds.
Hawaii’s two senators, Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, voted against the spending plan.
Hirono also voted against the defense policy bill, but Schatz broke ranks with the Senate Democratic leadership and voted in favor of it. In a statement, Schatz said the policy bill includes provisions that are boon to Hawaii’s economy and military community.
“The bill specifically states that any withdrawal of U.S. forces from U.S. Pacific Command would undermine the rebalance to the Asia Pacific, and that U.S. forces under the operational control of U.S. Pacific Command—like those of U.S. Army Pacific based in Hawai‘i—should be increased, consistent with our commitment to the region,” Schatz said in the statement.
The Obama administration has been threatening a veto on the measure, citing the cap busting budget gimmick as a reason.
U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono joined 37 fellow Democratic senators Tuesday in prodding the Obama administration to take a stronger stance to ensure the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control mandate is being followed.
In a letter to Sylvia Burwell, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the senators voiced their concerns over findings in a pair of studies that insurers are providing women inaccurate information about the required birth-control coverage.
The standards issued in 2011 require health insurers to cover all government-approved contraceptives for women, without co-payments or other charges. Insurers are also mandated to provide the coverage for sterilization procedures and “patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”
“In the 21st century, women should have access to affordable, comprehensive healthcare services, like birth control, that empower them to make their own healthcare decisions and provide economic security for their families,” the Senators wrote. “Unfortunately, we write with serious concerns that some insurers are failing to uphold the standards set in the Affordable Care Act and as a result leaving women without the health care services they are entitled to under the law.”
The senators are asking Burwell to issue a new written guidance to make sure that insurers comply with the contraceptive mandate. They are also calling for consumer education efforts and a push for the states to develop their “plan of action” for proper enforcement.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono is channeling “Late Show” host David Letterman to denounce the Republican budget proposal.
In anticipation of the Senate vote this week, Hirono borrowed a format made famous by the CBS late-night host and released her own Top 10 list of reasons why she thinks the GOP budget “hurts the middle class and is bad for Hawaii.”
The list, released Tuesday and accompanied by 10 pictures of Hirono interacting with her constituents, calls the GOP plan “a disastrous framework that would rig the rules in favor of billionaires and special interests” and assails it for cutting a whole host of government programs.
Topping the list was Hirono’s critique of reductions to food stamps and two tax credits for low-income taxpayers, the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.
Hirono goes on to criticize other belt-tightening measures — such as cuts to Medicare, Head Start, Pell and Title I grants — and disparages the Republicans for seeking to preserve special interest tax loopholes, to halt the construction and maintenance of national parks, and to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
You can see the full list here:
Hirono Top Ten list from Civil Beat
Hawaii’s congressional delegation ranked dead last in the country for its political influence, according to the latest Clout Index released by Roll Call last week.
Roll Call’s ranking, based on the delegation’s “total size, longevity, majority party representation and formal positions of power,” shows that Hawaii’s clout has plummeted since 2013, when the state claimed 19th spot.
The plunge, no doubt, reflects the consequence of a generational turnover. In 2012, the delegation lost the considerable political influence of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, a 40-year congressional veteran who chaired the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
Three of the four current members of delegation — Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Horono, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard — settled into their posts in January 2013, while Rep. Mark Takai assumed his post only this January.
The ranking typically benefits the most populated states, because they “generally amass the most seniority, have strength in numbers from the party in power (whichever one it is), claim the biggest shares of the powerful panel assignments and promote their own for leadership posts.”
California topped the ranking, followed by Texas, New York and Florida.
But Hawaii was outperformed by Alaska, whose population — at about 740,000 — is almost half that of Hawaii. Alaska was 47th in population but 32nd in the ranking.
On Friday, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, the Democrat of Hawaii, traveled with Sens. Jack Reed (D-RI) and Tom Udall (D-NM) to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba
The senators, according to Hirono’s office, toured detention facilities, got an intelligence briefing and met with GITMO commanders and other personnel.
The senators “also talked with legal experts on the ground about the process by which detainees are tried through the military court system.”
Hirono, who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said in a press release, “We cannot continue to operate Guantanamo Bay as an indefinite detention facility off U.S. shores. The continued operation of Guantanamo harms our national security interests, costs taxpayers far too much, undermines our role in the world as a human rights leader, and is used as a propaganda tool to recruit extremists. I will continue to work with the President and my colleagues to move forward on a path to close the detention facility at Guantanamo.”
Said Udall, a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, “I have long called for the prison to be closed, and I’m extremely disappointed that rather than shutting it outright years ago, we are still holding more than 100 detainees awaiting trial or transfer. We must end this sad chapter of American history, and I’ll use my position on the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense to push to close Guantánamo for good.”
Earlier this week, President Barack Obama — who had promised in 2008
Hawaii veterans complained to U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono on Tuesday about the reams of bureaucracy that often prevent them from getting timely access to health care and other services.
Among their concerns were the long waits to be seen by Veterans Affairs doctors, troubles traveling from the neighbor islands and an overall sense that their needs are being ignored by those whose job it is to serve them.
“The core issue may be one of attitude,” said Victor Craft, a Vietnam War veteran from Oahu. “The veteran is not a piece of paper to be shuffled through a never-ending corridor of administration. They are people.”
Hirono held a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in Honolulu to address the concerns of Hawaii residents who served in the armed forces.
Attendees included Craft and several other veterans, including Hawaii Army National Guard Capt. Elisa Smithers, who said she was a combat veteran who has struggled with alcoholism, nightmares and violent outbursts ever since serving tours of duty in Iraq and Kuwait.
VA officials and others involved in providing medical services to the military also testified during the hearing to explain what they’re doing to help ease the burden on veterans, particularly those living in Hawaii.
In June, the VA released an internal audit showing average wait times for incoming patients. Hawaii’s VA system was the
Schatz and Gabbard each got a bill passed, Hanabusa co-sponsored a lot of bipartisan measures and Hirono missed only one vote.
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