Air Force Academy: Ad-Verse to Scripture?
The hot seat just got hotter for Air Force officials at today's House Armed Services hearing. With the backdrop of Scripture scrubbing and Christian harassment at the branch's Academy, a routine budget debate turned into a fireworks display over the Air Force's growing hostility towards faith in the ranks. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh were originally scheduled to talk about branch spending until conservatives intervened, demanding a detailed explanation of the events that unfolded at the Academy. Representatives from Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) to Democrat Mike McIntyre (N.C.) took turns grilling the duo on the incident, which ultimately resulted in a cadet erasing Bible verses from his dorm whiteboard.
Congressman Randy Forbes (R-Va.) pressed the pair on "what other inspirational quotes cadets have been forced to remove from their personal whiteboards other than verses from the Bible." Secondly, he said, "I want to point out this to you, General. When you come in my office, I chair the Sea Power Subcommittee, [and] over the door you walk through I have our national motto engraved 'In God We Trust'.... How [is that] any different from this cadet placing his own personal message over his own personal whiteboard? And how is this offensive to leadership principles?"
Reps. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Michael Turner (R-Ohio) echoed Forbes's concerns, urging James and Welsh to "make every effort to promote and preserve religious liberty for our service members." For Congressman Lamborn, the incident is personal. "The Air Force Academy is in my district, and like Rep. Forbes, I'm very disturbed by what happened with this cadet. I think it's a suppression of religious rights, and I'm going to ask you in a minute about funding cuts at the Air Force Academy -- and I want to defend the academy, but my job has been, frankly, made a little bit harder because of that."
Things got even more heated when Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) brought up today's breaking story from Fox News that an Alabama Air Force Base had banned Gideon Bibles. Secretary James said she was "not familiar with the specifics" and reiterated the policy of balancing freedoms. Gen. Welsh explained that he and his wife ran a program called "Teens Encounter Christ" and said there were people in the Air Force that would disagree that there's religious persecution at the Academy. He explained he would not rush to judgment, but rather dispassionately look at the facts. Gen. Welsh said that he'd be happy to tell Fleming what they've been doing on this issue and said, the "single biggest frustration I've had in this job is the perception that somehow there is religious persecution in the United States Air Force. It is not true," he insisted. "We have incidents like everybody, [and] we investigate every one of them. We've asked every chaplain in our Air Force if they know of these cases, [and] they say no... There's a perception here that we're in a battle between two sets of advocacy groups." Congressman Fleming asked if the General if he was familiar with FRC's "Clear and Present Danger" publication. Gen. Welsh said he was.
The problems, Fleming said, are getting worse -- not better. Hopefully, with the help of these Members of Congress demanding answers, that's about to change. Join them in speaking up for the Air Force's cadets by signing our petition here!
The Fix Is in for U.S. Docs
This April Fools Day, the joke's on doctors. Unless Congress calls a temporary truce and gets down to business on a "doc fix," the country's physicians will be slammed with a 24% pay cut on April 1. Ever since 2002, the House and Senate have had to act every year to protect doctors from the cuts in the government's Medicare reimbursements scheduled to kick in under the outdated algorithm the government uses to calculate doctors' fees. It all speaks to the difficulties of entangling the government with health care even before the birth of the President's law.
A permanent fix to the problem would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $138 billion over the next 10 years. House Republicans are working to tie the solution to ObamaCare -- insisting they could afford the current rates if it put a five-year hold on the individual mandate. Their thinking is that the government wouldn't have to fork over the health care subsidies for the millions of people forced to buy insurance under the mandate. Of course, the GOP's solution also has the added benefit of giving Americans the same relief from the mandate that businesses are enjoying.
And so far, their proposal is a popular one. The conservative plan -- which passed out of the House early this afternoon 238-181 -- has the backing of 700 national and state medical groups. Democrats, on the other hand, want to pay for the fix with what Reuters is calling "hypothetical savings" from the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. As far as the Left is concerned, hitching the "doc fix" to the President's titanic failure is non-starter. "With their 51st vote to repeal and undermine the Affordable Care Act, they are turning their toxic, empty partisanship against health and security of our nation's seniors," blasted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Meanwhile, Health and Human Services (HHS) seems quite content to postpone the individual mandate -- as the Wall Street Journal was all too happy to expose earlier this week.
For now, the country's doctors are stuck in the middle, squeezed by Medicare on one side and the bargain basement reimbursement rates from ObamaCare on the other. It's an unenviable position to be in. James Capretta, writing for NRO, says the country's physicians are "fed up with repeated fights over the annual cuts, are ready to pocket the increases and worry about fighting the government's micromanagement of their practices later."
Speaking of fed up, that's exactly what Congressman (and medical doctor) Andy Harris (R-Md.) was at yesterday's House appropriations hearing with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. For the third time, Rep. Harris pressed the agency chief about the lack of transparency on abortion in the exchange's plans -- and for the third time, Sebelius responded with phony ignorance about the policies her Department oversees. Holding up copies of the Summary of Benefits for every exchange plan in Maryland, he said, "None of them have an indication whether they cover abortion... It's not transparent whatsoever."
He continued by asking Sebelius a familiar question: if she believed that abortion coverage should be clearly delineated to users on the ObamaCare website. "I think it should be transparent, what all the benefits are," she said -- as if it were the first time she'd considered such a question. After five months of debating this issue, Sebelius should have been prepared to answer for the administration's lawlessness. Turns out, the Secretary was prepared all right -- prepared to continue dodging the question. Fortunately, Rep. Chris Smith's (R-N.J.) bill, Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act, would help Americans get to the bottom of their insurance benefits. If the agency in charge of ObamaCare won't tell enrollees what they're paying for, Congress will.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.