White House Threatens To Veto Bill To Fund VA, Military Construction
The White House on Wednesday said that President Bush will veto a $118.7 billion fiscal year 2009 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bill (HR 6599) unless Congress finds $2.9 billion in offsets in other appropriations bills to meet the overall spending level he requested, CQ Today reports.
In addition, in the event that Congress cannot find the offsets, Bush might veto the other 11 appropriations bills, the White House said.
The Military Construction-VA appropriations bill includes $72.2 billion in discretionary spending, an $8.8 billion increase from FY 2008 and $3.4 billion more than President Bush requested (Johnson, CQ Today, 7/30). The bill would provide VA with $47.7 billion in discretionary spending.
Under the legislation, VA would receive a $4.6 billion increase in discretionary spending from FY 2008 and $2.9 billion more than Bush requested.
The White House Office of Management and Budget in a letter said, "If Congress determines that additional resources above the president's request are needed, Congress must provide reductions in other appropriations bills to offset this increase and meet the president's top line (discretionary spending cap) of $991.6 billion," adding, "If Congress ... does not offset this increase with spending reductions in other bills, the president will veto any of the other bills that exceed his request until Congress demonstrates a path to reach the president's top line."
According to the letter, the current spending level for VA is "104% above the level when the president took office" and "provides ample resources to ensure veterans receive the quality care they deserve" (Sanchez, CongressDaily, 7/30).
House Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chair Chet Edwards (D-Texas) said, "I do not understand the values that would suggest, during a time of war, we provide tax breaks for people making over $1 million a year, but we cannot afford to provide the health care our veterans deserve and the housing our troops need. I believe our veterans, military families and the American family will be as offended by this veto threat as I am" (CQ Today, 7/30).
A Democratic aide to the House Appropriations Committee said, "This Congress is dedicated to meeting the needs of our nation's veterans, no matter the political maneuvering of a callous president," adding, "Veterans are not political bargaining chips" (CongressDaily, 7/30).
The House plans to begin debate on the bill on Thursday. Before a vote on the legislation, the House likely will consider several amendments that would increase the ability of VA to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other mental health conditions.
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Bob Filner (D-Calif.) has proposed an amendment that would allocate $250 million of the VA budget to establish a community grant program to provide rehabilitation services to veterans with PTSD or TBI.
Filner also has proposed an amendment that would allocate $10 million of the VA budget to establish a "heroes' homecoming pilot program" to determine the effectiveness of screening, evaluation and treatment for mental health conditions for active-duty soldiers and veterans.
In addition, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) has proposed an amendment that would require VA to increase the number of facilities focused on treatment of PTSD in "underserved urban areas" (CQ Today, 7/30).