07.13.17

Senate Appropriations Committee Democrats Offer $1.6 Billion Amendment To Care For Nation’s Veterans

. . . Amendment is the first a series to be offered by Committee Democrats to highlight what Congress should be doing to invest in the American people. . .

Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday offered a $1.6 billion amendment that would have supported the health care of thousands of veterans across the country and bolstered the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The amendment, which was offered by Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), was rejected in Committee by a vote of 15 to 16.

The amendment was the first of a series to be offered by the Appropriations Committee Democrats to demand parity in budget priorities and show what Congress can and should be doing to invest in the American people and create jobs.

The rejection of the amendment leaves a nearly $1 billion hole in the budget that needs to be filled to maintain the thousands of doctors and nurses hired at VA facilities following the 2014 passage of the Veterans Choice Act.  President Trump’s budget did not fully account for those costs, and without additional funding the Department of Veterans Affairs will be unable to maintain the surge of new health care providers without delaying or sacrificing treatment.

Committee Vice Chairman Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said: “This year, the VA must sustain $1 billion in new personnel costs for nurses and doctors hired under the Veterans Choice Act.  The Trump budget did not account for those costs.  Without additional funding, the VA will be unable to keep these doctors and nurses, and will be forced to cut other areas in health care for veterans. Our veterans will not get the care that they need.  This is not acceptable, and our veterans deserve better.”

The amendment also included $550 million in grants for the construction of State Extended Care Facilities.  These facilities are run by local, state governments and provide veterans with nursing and domiciliary care.

The amendment would have provided $1.05 billion to sustain the new personnel costs and $550 million for State Extended Care Facilities and was offered during the markup of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Fiscal Year 2018 Appropriations Bill.  The text of the amendment is available HERE, and audio of the markup is available HERE.

The amendment was the first of a series of alternative allocations that will be offered by Committee Democrats to each bill to demand parity between defense and non-defense programs. 

In the five years since the passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), discretionary programs have been slashed by $2 trillion under post-sequestration budget cuts.  The resulting cuts have taken their toll on everything from the readiness of U.S. armed forces, to millions of families not receiving heating assistance, and drastic cuts to federal investment in job training and employment programs.  

Unless a budget deal is reached, the BCA would demand another $5 billion in cuts from fiscal year 2017 funding levels -- $2 billion from defense and $3 billion from non-defense discretionary funding -- and continue sequestration’s devastating consequences in fiscal year 2018, consequences that will last a generation or more. 

Leahy said: “We need a clear path forward.  When Chairman Cochran offers an allocation, I will offer an alternative allocation based on parity.  My allocation will be set to a responsible topline and establish a spending allocation for each bill.  At each markup, the Ranking Members will offer an amendment that will show what we could do for the American people with the additional investments in our communities, help create jobs, and support hard-working families.  And as we move forward in this process, I hope we make progress on a bipartisan budget deal that will make these amendments a reality.  I want to make one thing very clear.  We cannot finish the appropriations process without a budget deal in place.  It won’t happen.”

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