The Washington Post

Military band bill: a victim of bad PR?

The U.S. Navy Band Commodores Jazz Ensemble performs. (MU1 Jeff Snavely)

Here’s how the most recent tune played out: Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) sponsored legislation to cut funding to the military’s ceremonial bands, and the measure was among a series of amendments on the floor last week making various trims to the military’s budget (including one that would end the military’s NASCAR advertisements). When Democrats circulated a memo — as they typically do before floor votes — describing the various amendments, the McCollum amendment was summarized thusly: The measure “Reduces Military Retirement Funds (for military bands).”

Cutting retirement funds for servicepeople? That sure doesn’t sound as palatable as knocking a few trombonists off the roster.

And it wasn’t accurate, says Bill Harper, McCollum’s chief of staff. “She had people coming up to her on the floor and asking, ‘What are you doing?’ ” he said.

The measure failed in a 250-166 vote. Fifty-one fewer Democrats voted for it than for a similar band-cutting bill last year that passed the House 226-201, he noted. “The error drastically affected the outcome of the vote,” Harper tells the Loop.

Not to say that everyone who voted against the bill did so because they were confused. Bands offer “a good shot of patriotism,” argued Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) during floor debate.

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the top-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations committee, who circulated the inaccurate memo, issued a corrected version sometime during the vote — but it was too late. The memo originated in House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer’s office, we hear.

So the bands remain funded, but those in favor of cutting their budgets are hoping that Congress will someday sing a different song.

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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