Obama: ‘We will not balance the budget on the backs of veterans’
Published: August 31, 2011
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama got loud applause from a skeptical audience at the American Legion convention Tuesday when he bluntly stated that “we cannot, we must not and we will not balance the budget on the backs of veterans.” The comments came as the president acknowledged the tough fiscal decisions the country faces, but he said deciding whether to fund veterans benefits should not be among them.
The comments came less than two weeks after the White House ordered all federal agencies – including the Department of Veterans Affairs – to draw up plans identifying up to 10 percent in overall cuts for their 2013 budgets, in anticipation of significant fiscal constraints next year.
In a memo, Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew said departments should expect fiscal 2013 budgets to face close scrutiny, and told planners to focus on elimination of "low-priority" or "ineffective programs” in their agencies.
“This does not mean that we will institute either a five percent or ten percent cut in an individual agency's budget or in all agency budgets,” Lew wrote. “We asked agencies to provide these two options so that the President can have the information needed to make the tough choices necessary” in the months ahead.
In his speech Tuesday, Obama highlighted the dramatic rise in veterans funding over the last three years (the VA budget has risen almost 30 percent since fiscal 2008), but that continued growth seems impossible in the current budget environment.
Veterans groups are also anxiously awaiting proposals from the 12-member supercommittee, charged with finding more than $1 trillion in long-term spending cuts by the end of November. Much of the speculation on their work so far has focused on defense cuts and expensive weapons systems, but VA programs could be among the savings considered.
Obama noted in his remarks that the demand on veterans services is expected to grow in coming years, as more troops return from combat tours overseas.
“As our troops come home, we’re reminded once more of our responsibilities to all who have served,” he said. “For the bond between our forces and our citizens is a sacred trust. And for me and my administration, upholding that trust isn’t just a matter of policy. It’s not about politics. It’s a moral obligation.”