House Approves $975M in Supplemental Funds for Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Budget Deficit
The House on Thursday voted 419-0 to pass a fiscal year 2005 supplemental appropriations bill (HR 3130) that would provide the Department of Veterans Affairs with $975 million -- an amount requested by the Bush administration -- a move that could lead to a "stalemate between House and Senate Republicans" over how to address a budget deficit for VA health care programs, CQ Today reports (Starks, CQ Today, 7/1). The Senate on Wednesday voted 96-0 to add $1.5 billion in emergency funds for VA health care programs to the FY 2006 Interior appropriations bill (HR 2361).
VA Secretary James Nicholson and other department officials on Tuesday testified before Congress that the budget deficit could reach at least $1 billion in FY 2005 and at least $2.6 billion in FY 2006. (California Healthline, 6/30). In testimony to Congress on Thursday, Nicholson said that the $975 million includes $273 million for expenses related to veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $226 million for long-term care and $200 million to serve all but the lowest-priority veterans as determined by their income and disability levels (CQ HealthBeat, 6/30).
The administration "defended" the amount of the appropriations request as the "best estimate of what is needed" for VA in FY 2005, the Washington Times reports (Dinan, Washington Times, 7/1).
However, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) said that the administration should have requested more than $975 million, adding, "Instead of stepping up and admitting that its funding shortfall is alarming, the White House wants to shortchange our veterans" (Dalrymple, AP/Miami Herald, 7/1).
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Larry Craig (R-Idaho) said, "I would want and hope the House could be with us on this issue," adding, "The Senate spoke in a very loud, bipartisan, unanimous way" (CQ Today, 7/1).
The administration plans to propose an FY 2006 budget amendment, which likely would provide more than $1 billion in additional funds for VA, and lawmakers might combine funds for FY 2005 and FY 2006 in the final Interior appropriations bill, CongressDaily reports (CongressDaily, 6/30). According to the Christian Science Monitor, the budget deficit "raises questions about VA's ability to handle an increased workload as a result of the war" (Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, 7/1).