Despite a proposed budget that would boost spending for veterans, the House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman accused the White House Wednesday of leaving veterans “twisting in the wind” by refusing to declare the Department of Veterans Affairs exempt from automatic cuts to reduce the deficit.
At a committee hearing on the budget, Rep. Jeff Miller, (R-Fla.), said the White House silence on the issue is meant to pressure Congress to accept a deficit reduction agreement that would avoid the cuts otherwise required under the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Miller said the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office have given the committee legal opinions that under current law, VA should be ruled exempt. But the White House’s Office of Management and Budget has not yet given a legal opinion.
“I believe we’re seeing here a cynical attempt to keep veterans twisting in the wind,” Miller said.
Democrats on the committee pointed to the VA’s proposed $140.3 billion budget released Monday, a 10.5 percent overall increase that includes a 4.5 percent more in discretionary spending and a 16.2 percent jump in mandatory spending.
“The proof is in the pudding,” said Rep. Bob Filner, (D-Calif.), the ranking minority member of the committee. “There is no twisting in the wind here.”
Miller acknowledged that given the “extraordinarily tight fiscal climate, a 4.3 percent increase in discretionary spending is certainly positive.”
But he added that “veterans don’t care about numbers, they want their claims decided faster, their health care taken care of, and their aging facilities upgraded.”
In his testimony before the committee, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said the budget request “continues the momentum in our three priorities” increasing access to care and benefits, eliminating claims backlog and ending veterans homelessness.