House, Senate Agree To Provide $1.5B for Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Programs
House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday agreed to add $1.5 billion to the fiscal year 2006 Interior-Environment appropriations bill (HR 2361) for Department of Veterans Affairs health care programs, CQ Today reports. According to CQ Today, the House unanimously approved a "nonbinding Democratic motion to instruct House negotiators to accept the Senate's position" on funds for VA health care programs in the legislation (Starks, CQ Today, 7/26).
The Senate on June 29 voted 96-0 to add $1.5 billion in emergency funds for VA health care programs to the bill. VA would use the funds to address a budget deficit for fiscal year 2005 and help address an expected deficit in FY 2006. VA Secretary James Nicholson and other department officials in June testified before Congress that the budget deficit for health care programs could reach at least $1 billion in FY 2005 and at least $2.6 billion in FY 2006.
The House in June passed an FY 2005 supplemental appropriations bill (HR 3130) that would provide VA health care programs with $975 million -- the amount first requested by the Bush administration for FY 2005. The administration earlier this month asked for an additional $300 million for VA health care programs for FY 2005 (California Healthline, 7/15).
The House agreed to approve the $1.5 billion in funds after "key House lawmakers said they had lost faith in the VA's estimates" of the budget deficit, the AP/San Francisco Chronicle reports.
"We go from $600 million to $975 million to $1.275 billion. What's it going to be in August?" House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) asked, adding, "There is a loss of confidence here in the House with regard to the number that has been given to us" (Taylor, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 7/26).
The House and Senate likely will approve the bill this week (CongressDaily, 7/27).