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Congress has much to do before the new year

By By Jo Bonner
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the American people and many in Congress are frustrated with the lack of accomplishments achieved by the 110th Congress.
After wasting much of the past year on frivolous legislation such as naming post offices, courthouses, and roads, only one of the 12 annual appropriations bills has been signed into law by the president.
Typically, Congress passes a pre-determined budget amount for an upcoming fiscal year, usually by mid-April. At that time, the individual subcommittees of the House Appropriations Committee begin to draft their own spending bills within the budget limits and set priorities for the coming year.
Ideally, the funding measures pass the committee and then the full House and Senate by the start of the new fiscal year on October 1, but to date, only one spending bill has been completed.
American men and women are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan putting their lives on the line in defense of our country, and the leadership in Congress continues to play politics with the funding for the war – attempting to tie deadlines and withdrawal dates to the funding our brave troops must have.
In fact, the funding situation for our military has become so dire that more than 200,000 civilian military personnel and contractors face being laid off unless Congress can pass these emergency funds.
Civilian employees perform a wide variety of functions on military bases, including law enforcement, fire protection, and medical care, as well as provide utility and trash services, childcare, and library services.
We are just a couple of weeks away from Christmas and a new year, and so much of this unfinished work is still up in the air. Clearly, this Congress will go down in history as one that began with so much promise and ended with a host of unfinished business.
Gas prices are rising – in south Alabama, it costs more than $3.15 a gallon for gas. Congress must pass a comprehensive energy plan that increases the supply, security and diversity of American energy and puts real alternative and renewable fuels in the hands of consumers to lower costs.
Instead, the leadership in Congress chose to push through a bill that will raise taxes, impose new mandates that will increase electricity prices, and rapidly increases the fuel economy standards to 35 miles-per-gallon by 2020, without creating new energy supplies.
As students are wrapping up a semester in school and getting ready for their final exams, the American people probably would not give Congress a very high grade.
However, hope springs eternal, and I was encouraged by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's remarks late last week. He believes the House will finish the remaining 11 appropriations bills – in some form or fashion – by the end of the week. The most likely scenario would wrap the remaining spending bills into an omnibus appropriations bill in order to expedite the process.
I'm not happy about the prospect of an omnibus bill; in fact, the House leadership had promised it would not have to be done this year.
I remain hopeful any omnibus package brought to the House floor will provide the necessary funding for our troops without strings attached and will not exceed the president's spending request.
Penalizing wounded veterans
Our office has received a number of calls from veterans and concerned constituents who have heard the stories in the news about war veterans who have been asked to pay back part of their enlistment bonuses when they are unable to complete their commitments due to combat injuries.
I have been working aggressively with other members of Congress, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Veterans Affairs to make sure this never happens to another veteran.
Fortunately, as this issue has garnered much attention, the Pentagon advises that only a small number of wounded soldiers have been asked to repay a bonus, and these cases turned out to be clerical mistakes.
However, one instance is one too many, so I have cosponsored H.R. 3793, the Veterans Guaranteed Bonus Act of 2007. I'm pleased to have worked closely with Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to make sure that no veteran who is wounded in the line of duty will ever be asked to pay back his signing bonus.
My staff and I work for you. If we can ever be of service, do not hesitate to call my office toll free at 1-800-288-8721 or visit my website at http://bonner.house.gov.
Jo Bonner is a U.S. congressman. His column appears weekly.