07.12.18

“Minibus” Conference Committee Delayed

Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Thursday expressed disappointment following the delay of the first Appropriations Conference Committee Meeting of the fiscal year 2019 appropriations process.

Leahy is hopeful the meeting will be rescheduled and intends to offer an amendment that would facilitate funding for the VA Choice program, which was transferred only recently to the discretionary side of the budget as part of the VA MISSION Act.  The House and Senate appropriations bills do not fully fund these new costs, which were not accounted for in the Bipartisan Budget Act that set spending caps into law in February. 

If there is not a fix, the program will face a $1.6 billion shortfall in fiscal year 2019, an $8.67 billion shortfall in fiscal year 2020, and a $9.5 billion shortfall in fiscal year 2021.  Under the current spending caps, these costs would have to be accommodated by making deep cuts into other veterans programs.  It is expected that the program will run out of funds in May of 2019. 

Leahy said:  “We do our veterans no favors when we make promises to them that we cannot keep.  Our veterans made a commitment to our country, and the very least we should do is keep our country’s commitment to them.”

Leahy’s proposal would allow Congress to appropriate additional discretionary funding, if necessary, to meet the new requirements of the VA MISSION Act without having to cut other vital VA programs and services.  

There has been bipartisan momentum to fix the program in the Senate.  In June, 33 veterans organizations sent a letter to Congress strongly supporting Leahy’s amendment. LINK: https://www.leahy.senate.gov/download/061918vsosupportletter

Leahy has praised the hard work and cooperation from Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) in leading committee, which has reported all 12 bipartisan appropriations bills out of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and is hopeful the meeting will be rescheduled so that this important matter can be considered.  

The Conference was set to consider the “minibus” appropriations bill, which included the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill.

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David Carle: 202-224-3693