VA, Dems decry spending cuts in Republican debt ceiling bill as House narrowly approves the controversial legislation
Stars and Stripes April 26, 2023
WASHINGTON — A bill to raise the debt ceiling narrowly passed the Republican-led House on Wednesday despite protests from veterans and their allies on Capitol Hill who say the legislation will drastically slash health care for former service members.
The House voted 217-215 in favor of the “Limit, Save, Grow” Act about an hour after veterans joined House Democrats to speak out against the controversial bill in front of the Capitol building. The legislation freezes spending at last year’s amounts for a decade in exchange for raising the nation’s borrowing limit into next year.
The Department of Veterans Affairs projected the bill would reduce its budget by 22% and immediately rescind $2 billion in funding to support veterans. Some lawmakers said Wednesday that the proposal will result in 30 million fewer veteran outpatient visits and significantly increase the backlog for benefit claims.
“It’s cruel and it hurts our heroes,” said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
The bill is destined to fail in the Democrat-controlled Senate but Republicans hope to use it to boost their negotiating power as the U.S. approaches a default on its debt as soon as the summer.
Rep. Mark Takano of California, the top Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Republicans were reviving the same tactics that stalled last year’s passage of the PACT Act, which expanded VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins.
“They are holding veterans benefits hostage by again pointing to their concerns about fiscal responsibility. They fancy themselves to be fiscally responsible,” he said. “But ultimately, they're seeking to balance the budget on the backs of veterans no matter what the consequences.”
More than 20 veterans service organizations sent a letter to Congress on Tuesday urging lawmakers to vote against the legislation unless it included protections for VA funding. The VA estimated it would lose 81,000 jobs across the Veterans Health Administration and 6,000 staff in the Veterans Benefits Administration if the bill becomes law.
The spending cuts would affect housing support for 50,000 veterans, prevent the construction of health care facilities, delay the opening of five new national cemeteries that serve veterans and deprive veterans of mental health, substance use and other health services.
Veterans in Texas, California and Florida would be hardest hit by the potential reduction in outpatient appointments, according to an analysis by Democratic staff on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said Republicans on Tuesday night refused to listen to veteran concerns as they worked on the bill for hours in the House Rules Committee.
“Given the look on their faces, I believe I was the one to inform them of the immediate $2 billion rescission that robs veterans of timely access to health care services,” she said. “I do not think they know what is in their own bill.”
House Republicans have denied that services for veterans would be affected by their plan. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, insisted in a statement last week that the bill would protect veterans’ benefits, Social Security and Medicare.
“Republicans have always prioritized veterans in our spending to ensure veterans have access to the care, benefits and services they have earned,” he said. “Anyone who questions our commitment to the men and women who have served should find new talking points.”
Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-Pa., a former Navy officer who deployed to Iraq, described the legislation as a betrayal.
“They're doing these cuts against the backdrop of holding our economy hostage. They're telling us, ‘If you don't want to put the economy into default and wreck this country, well, you have to cut veterans care,’” he said. “It's the same guys who I see all the time wrapping themselves in the flag, using my fellow veterans and me as props in their ads and on their websites. No more. They should be hearing from all of us.”