Is the GOP cutting veteran funds? No. But why would that stop Pelosi from saying otherwise?
I hate agreeing with the Washington Post’s “fact checker” column, because I worry that I am setting up my readers to be fooled at some later date. “Fact checker” earns a reputation for honesty and non-partisanship, I fear, precisely so that it can be used for partisan purposes on crucial issues.
But, now that you know I think you should be careful about ever relying on “fact checker” too heavily, I have to say that they did a good job on Nancy Pelosi’s crazy claims about the GOP cutting veteran funds.
Here is what Pelosi said:
It turns a cold shoulder to our veterans and ignores our crumbling infrastructure. In terms of our veterans, you see yesterday, Republicans sought to advance their appropriations bill under the level set by their new budget, which may or may not come to the floor today. But yesterday, the MilCon — military construction veterans bill — that cuts $1.4 billion below President Obama’s budget … and then it cuts $690 million from veterans’ medical care alone, the equivalent of 70,000 fewer veterans receiving V.A. medical care in one year.
Pelosi is apparently trying to give some plausibility to the White House threat to veto the bill. According to the Washington Post,
The House passed its first appropriations bill for fiscal year 2016, largely voting along party lines on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill. House Democrats, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald and some veterans groups opposed the bill, saying it inadequately pays for veterans’ medical needs and construction projects that could help expand their access to care.
Notice that this is one of the few exceptions to the general rule that the Democrats still run Congress. So it is really important to not get beaten down on this bill and, if possible, to shame the White House by exposing their lies so that Obama doesn’t veto it. (Yeah, that’s a long shot but it’s all I’ve got.)
Since, rather than the GOP cutting Veteran funds, the Republicans in Congress have, in fact, massively increased them, it might seem strange that I want to defend this bill. But veterans are, after all, not really welfare recipients. Nor are they military contractors with lobbyists. They are simply the people who the government enticed to serve this country and promised to care for if they survived that service. These people could have had other lives and other careers in the private sector, but gave all that up and sometimes have particular health challenges as a result. They do need to be taken care of in a reasonable manner. I’m not sure what really counts as reasonable, but the Republican bill does take care of them.
That being said, the only way you get anything from government is by asking for much more. So veterans groups did ask for more than Congress gave. If Pelosi thinks that is not enough, she can argue her point. What she shouldn’t do is lie about Republicans cutting the budget. They didn’t cut; they added to the budget.
They added a lot.
The House passed a $171 billion VA and military construction bill, which was a funding increase for both programs over fiscal 2015 levels. That included $163 billion for VA’s fiscal 2016 budget — a $4 billion increase over the fiscal 2015 enacted budget, but a $1.4 billion decrease from the president’s request.
Discretionary funding for VA totaled $69.7 billion — a nearly six percent increase over fiscal 2015. It included funding for treatment of 6.9 million patients and 770 new staff members to address the claims backlog. But the president’s budget request called for $70.2 billion in VA discretionary funds.
For the medical-services portion of the veterans’ health budget, the president’s budget requested $1.1 billion over what already was enacted for fiscal 2016. The appropriations bill agreed to 86 percent of that additional request. The House Appropriations Committee said the request was “unusually large” and that the need likely will decrease after a pending VA policy change.
The committee said it has “continuing concern over VA’s ability to effectively manage the cost of non-VA care,” because it is under-utilizing its community-care program. If VA used that program more, it could decrease costs and improve the convenience of care for patients, it said.
The president’s budget asked for double the current funding for construction projects, but the committee rejected it. McDonald said the House bill would halt major medical center projects and cemetery expansion efforts. But the committee said it is “seriously disturbed” by recent findings of mismanagement of a VA construction project in Colorado that has run more than $1 billion over budget.
Let’s remember that the entire VA corruption scandal of using secret waiting lists is primarily a failure in the executive office. The President is now demanding that Congress throw money at a problem of his own making and then grandstanding as a champion of veterans when they don’t provide the full amount.
Furthermore, Congress has already given billions more.
Yet, in addition to this appropriations bill, VA now has access to an extraordinary amount of money to make sure veterans get medical care. In August 2014, Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act — a bipartisan response to the scandal that erupted over veterans’ delayed access to medical care at VA facilities across the country.
That legislation allowed VA to spend $5 billion to improve infrastructure and hire physicians and medical staff. Another $10 billion allowed the agency to pay for veterans to get medical care outside of the system if they live far away from a VA facility or if they wait longer than 30 days for an appointment. This is separate from the House appropriations bill. (There is a three-year sunset on the $10 billion portion.)
Naturally, Pelosi’s office pushed back on all of this. But no matter what level of funding is right, the GOP never cut anything to veterans (or to the bureaucracy and contractors who feed themselves richly while veterans who depend on them languish). On the contrary, they increased spending.
Pelosi is lying.