By Jon D. Melegrito
A Push to the Finish Line for the Congressional Gold Medal legislation
Filipino WWII Vet Jesse Baltazar, 96, a Bataan Death March survivor, repeatedly asked, “how long do we have to wait before Congress recognizes our service to America?” He spent his last years fighting for veterans’ benefits and raising awareness of their heroism and sacrifice. Today, out of the 260,000 who served, less than 15,000 remain. (Photo courtesy of the US Army.)
Advocates for the Filipino Veterans of World War II Congressional Gold Medal (CGM) have done their due diligence by getting the U.S. Senate to pass S.1555 in July, and securing 305 cosponsors (a super majority) for the companion House measure, HR 2737, early in October. The fate of this legislation, which would grant recognition to Filipino and American veterans for their service and sacrifice, is now in the hands of House Speaker Paul Ryan and a small group of senior House leaders.
To have it passed, Speaker Ryan must schedule the bill for a vote and have it approved by the House. It then goes to President Obama for his signature.
But there’s a very small window for this to happen. Congress is on recess right now because of the elections. This means no business is conducted in Capitol Hill, because all 100 Senators and 435 Representatives are all out campaigning. A number of them are running for re-election.
A Heavy Lift
“Heading out in early October would mark the sixth consecutive time Congress has gone home more than a month before Election Day,” observes Capitol Hill’s Roll Call, “relying on its ability to mop up unfinished business afterward. Lame-ducks, in theory, are able to produce some meaningful legislation with the help of dozens of members freed from political pressures by their impending retirements or recent defeats.”
The House calendar has the Representatives returning to Washington, D.C. November 15 to take up a budget resolution that will fund government for at least six months. The hope is, they will also find time to vote for the Congressional Gold Medal legislation, under so-called “suspension of the rules.” Basically, since CGM is non-controversial and non-partisan, and it involves very little appropriation, committee hearings won’t be necessary. The lead sponsor will simply make a motion on the floor, and if there are no objections, the bill will pass. From that point on, it goes to the White House, hopefully before President Obama steps down from office in January.
But time is running out. Congress will only have two weeks to conduct business before the current legislative session ends in December. Failure to take up this bill will simply mean it will have to be refiled again next year. For advocates, this means starting all over again, securing 67 cosponsors in the Senate and 290 cosponsors in the House. A heavy lift, but it can be done.
Gratitude of a nation
Meanwhile, our aging veterans who have waited for more than 70 years for this recognition, keep asking: “How much longer do we have to wait?”
And that is the main reason it must be done, now! They don’t have much time left to receive the official gratitude of a nation.
It is now incumbent on the House senior leadership to talk among themselves and schedule the bill for a vote. The time is now for Congress to once and for all honor our veterans by awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian award this august body can give.
The Filipino American community and all the advocates who have worked hard to engage Congress on this issue have done their due diligence. But if we can all make one last phone call or send one last email to Speaker Ryan, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, that may well be just what they need to move this historic bill to the finish line.
Let’s make it happen – for our veterans, our heroes!