Republican Representatives Warned of VA Health Care Deficit Last Year
Former Chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) and several Republicans warned House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) last year that the government would have a budget deficit of at least $750 million for veterans' health care programs in fiscal year 2006, the AP/Richmond Post-Dispatch reports (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7/17). President Bush on Thursday asked Congress for $1.98 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs FY 2006 health care programs to address the budget deficit.
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 (California Healthline, 7/15). In March 2004, Smith warned House leaders of an impending VA budget shortfall of $2.5 billion. The Senate approved a measure with the increase, but the House's bill included $750 million less. Smith and 30 other Republican legislators wrote to Republican leaders to voice their concern about the situation, but Smith was "rebuked by several Republicans" for warning of the deficit, the AP/Times-Dispatch reports.
In addition, Smith, Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) and Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) -- who all signed the letters to Hastert and DeLay -- were removed from their positions on House committees with some oversight of VA issues. Smith declined to blame the House leaders or discuss the details of his removal, the AP/Times-Dispatch reports. A spokesperson for DeLay said House leaders will "make sure that every veteran will receive the coverage they need." Hastert's office did not comment, according to the AP/Times-Dispatch (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 7/17).