The Leahy Letter -- December 22, 2010

Bill To Repeal
Discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Policy
Signed Into Law Today

Senator Leahy Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Senator Leahy makes remarks at the enrollment ceremony of legislation repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

After 17 years of discrimination imposed by law on America's Armed Forces, and on those who serve within them, the United States Senate voted to repeal the policy known as 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' on Saturday, December 18, by a vote of 65-31.

Senator Leahy, long a leading advocate of repeal, attended the White House ceremony on Wednesday when President Obama signed the bill into law. Senator Leahy said this about the historic vote:

It is a galvanizing victory for individual civil rights in our country, grounded in enduring American values.  Removing a discriminatory barrier for some Americans underscores the rights of all Americans. I am grateful to have been part of this effort that now will end an era of mandated discrimination – official discrimination that has been imposed by law on our U.S. military and those who serve within it.  When signed into law, this will let people live honest lives as they serve their country. We ask our troops to protect freedom around the globe.  Now we are helping to protect their basic freedoms and equal rights here at home.


Senator Leahy Votes
Against A Wholesale Extension Of Bush-Era Tax Cuts

On December 15, Senator Leahy voted against a bill to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. The legislation, which the full Senate approved, would extend all of the tax cuts from 2001 and 2003, which Senator Leahy opposed because they were not paid for and they disproportionately benefitted the wealthiest Americans. He supported an alternative bill providing tax relief for working and middle-income Americans. He said, "I am not willing to add $858 billion to the national debt in order to give enormous tax breaks to multi-millionaires. One of the biggest mistakes in the last administration was to wage two wars without paying for them while cutting taxes for the wealthiest."  To read Senator Leahy's full statement in opposition to the wholesale extension of the expiring tax cuts, please click here .


President Obama Signs
Landmark Child Nutrition Legislation Into Law

Senator Leahy and Secretary Duncan at Lunch
(Photo: U.S. Department of Education) Senator Leahy and Secretary Duncan have lunch with students at the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes in Burlington, Vermont.

On December 13, President Obama signed into law the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the largest single investment ever made in child nutrition programs. The bill includes an expansion of an effort led by Senator Leahy to multiply links between local farms and school lunch programs.

The fully paid for, bipartisan $4.5 billion childhood nutrition bill, which passed the Senate in August, will renew and expand federal support for school lunch programs to reach more at-risk children and to improve the nutrition of school meals in several ways. The bill also includes an organics pilot program, also supported by Senator Leahy, under which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will offer competitive grants for schools to boost their offerings of organic foods and to scale up the nutritional value of the foods provided to schoolchildren under the school lunch program.

Following the President signing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law, Elmo joined White House Chef Sam Kass in the White House kitchen to talk about the importance of healthy and delicious school meals. The White House blog also highlighted sample school menus before and after the improved nutritional standards in the bill are enacted, which are available here .


Senator Leahy Keynotes
At 'International Corruption Hunters' Conference

On December 7, Senator Leahy, at the invitation of World Bank President Robert Zoellick, delivered the keynote address at a World Bank meeting of the International Corruption Hunters Alliance. He spoke to public officials, prosecutors and investigators representing 134 countries who had gathered in Washington to discuss ways to strengthen efforts to curb bribery, fraud and other corrupt practices in their countries.

Senator Leahy, the author of such anti-corruption laws as "The Anti-Kleptocracy Act," noted that a lack of transparency of government receipts and expenditures, widespread corruption, and impunity for the misuse of public funds, are among the biggest obstacles to economic and democratic development in developing countries. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee that funds the U.S foreign aid budget, Senator Leahy highlighted the imperative of the United States and other countries leading by example by rooting out corruption at home. He also stressed the need to prevent our foreign aid from falling into the wrong hands, or from being used to prop up corrupt governments. To read the full text of Senator Leahy's speech, click here .


Congress Approves Funding
For F-35 Alternative Engine Production

Yesterday the Senate and House passed a continuing budget resolution, fundng federal agencies through February, that maintains work on production of an alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Senator Leahy has worked with the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee to ensure that funding for the engine was included. Leahy supports the F-35 alternate engine because it creates competition and subsequently lowers the cost of both engines. The lower costs will ultimately benefit taxpayers. To read the Senator's full statement on this issue, please click here


*****Vermont Welcomes Home Our Guard Members*****

Senator Leahy Announces New Army Medical Pilot Program

Senator Leahy announced in early December that the U.S. Army Medical Command has begun implementing a new medical pilot program for returning members of the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. The reforms, requested of the Army by Leahy, are designed to ease the recovery of wounded soldiers by returning them earlier to their homes and families. Until now, some Vermonters, like other returning Guard and Reserve soldiers across the nation, have been kept hundreds of miles away from loved ones at Army medical centers across the country for prolonged periods, even after they were no longer receiving specialized care.

The pilot program applies to line-of-duty medical issues of soldiers just now returning from Afghanistan, not to deployment-ending serious injuries for which soldiers already have been flown to military hospitals for specialized treatment. The improvements will consolidate two previously separate units, the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU), and the Community-Based Warrior Transition Unit (CBWTU). Under the old rules of the warrior transition program, after being discharged from in-patient care, wounded soldiers would enter the WTU to remain nearby the medical center where they received out-patient care. The leaders of the WTU kept tabs on convalescing soldiers to ensure that they attended their medical appointments, recovered well, remained in good psychological condition and maintained good conduct. After a soldier's medical team determined that he or she was ready to continue the mending process at home, the soldier was discharged from the WTU, entered the CBWTU, and continued his or her care while staying at home with loved ones.

This pre-Leahy program had caused Vermont Guard soldiers to run into trouble this year during the transition process from the WTU to the CBWTU. First, CBWTUs around the country had reached their capacity, making it difficult for Vermont soldiers to find vacancies that would allow them to return home. Even after Vermonters found rare vacancies, they often had to wait weeks and even months for official orders to report to the CBWTU. And after clearing that hurdle, soldiers still had to wait for a window of time when the CBWTU would allow them to officially "in-process" - to be transferred from a sending unit to a receiving unit.

Now, by consolidating the WTU and CBWTU, the pilot program advocated by Leahy will remove all three of these barriers at once. Soldiers will return home as soon as their medical care team makes that recommendation, without needing to find a CBWTU vacancy or wait for new paperwork. In another benefit for returning Vermonters, the Army has based this pilot program out of Fort Drum, New York, so the majority of Vermont soldiers will be nearer to home even while they remain in-patients or while they receive out-patient care in the WTU.


News You Can Use:
Department Of Commerce Offers New Web Portal To Small Business Owners

The Commerce Department recently unveiled a new online tool to help small- and medium-sized businesses tap into the global marketplace and start exporting. This online effort supports the National Export Initiative, which calls for doubling U.S. exports and supporting several million jobs over the next five years. In partnership with the Small Business Administration, the Commerce Department's Six Steps to Begin Exporting can be found here.


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