Originally created 05/17/03

Give our GIs a break



When various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces were combined under the Department of Defense as a single force for freedom in 1949, Defense Secretary Louis Johnson announced the creation of Armed Forces Day on the third Saturday in May to replace the separate Army, Navy and Air Force days.

President Harry S. Truman said the initial observance marked "the first combined demonstration by America's defense team of its progress ... toward the goal of readiness for any eventuality. ..."

The overwhelming victory of American forces and our allies in the battle for Iraq, and our success in the continuing war against terrorism in Afghanistan and around the globe demonstrate the farsightedness of these early leaders in their quest for a unified American military force to more effectively protect the freedoms that are the foundation of our nation's greatness.

However, the success of any military action depends on those who do the fighting in the field. Today's well-trained fighting men and women have shown a dedicated purpose in defending American ideals in difficult and complex situations. Recently tested in Iraq, these troops remained steadfast, both in battle and in captivity. A grateful country will make sure that they and their dependents are properly cared for. That is why Congress has agreed in principle to a series of tax breaks for those who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Among those proposed is one that loosens the residency requirement for a capital-gains tax break for homeowners when they sell their homes.

The bill would give the break to military personnel who are deployed 50 miles or more from their homes. The present law covers only personnel sent more than 150 miles from home.

Another part of the bill makes tax-free the $6,000 funeral benefit paid to families of soldiers killed in action. It also contains a provision allowing reservists to recover some travel expenses.

Unfortunately, the details of the proposal has the two chambers bickering over what benefits military personnel should get and how to pay for them. Lawmakers have been debating this bill since the first days of the war.

One of the biggest roadblocks to an agreement is a proposal by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to recover the cost of the GI tax breaks from individuals who give up their U.S. citizenship to avoid paying taxes. Another sticking point is a House provision that includes income tax relief for families of astronauts killed in the space shuttle Columbia.

While both provisions may be worth considering, they should be considered on their own merits and not attached to this bill out of political expediency.

After the sacrifices our troops have made serving their country in dangerous places like Iraq and Afghanistan, it would be shameful if Congress fails to make sure the GIs and their dependents are properly cared for just because some legislators tried to use the Armed Forces Tax Fairness Act of 2003 as a pawn for political gain.