Lowey statement at subcommittee markup of 2018 MilCon-VA bill
Thank you, Chairman Dent, Ranking Member Wasserman Shultz, and Chairman Frelinghuysen for your work on this bill.
If we were considering the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill in a vacuum this would be a good bill at $88.8 billion in discretionary funding, a $6 billion increase over the Fiscal Year 2017 enacted level. This bill would fund critical services veterans rely upon, including:
$1.7 billion to address veteran homelessness;
$8.4 billion for mental health services; and
$$2.89 billion for the Veterans Benefits Administration.
In addition, I am pleased that VA has announced it will follow DoD in pursuing the same electronic health records system, a priority on which I have focused on for several years. Fencing funds until VA can provide a plan on purchasing that system is the responsible course of action. The current system is simply unacceptable. We owe the men and women who served this country the best treatment possible, and it is my hope that recent steps coupled with our oversight will lead to an improved VA health care system.
Unfortunately we do not have the luxury to consider funding for some parts of the government without considering the effects of spending policy on government as a whole. The veterans we seek to assist in this bill will also be harmed if other appropriations bills cut essential programs like job training, elderly and disabled housing, and childcare programs. Cuts to the federal workforce across the government are a direct threat to veterans, who made up 30.9 percent of the federal workforce in FY15.
The Republicans control the House, Senate, and the White House, and the nation’s fiscal house is in disrepair under their leadership. When Democrats controlled the Senate, my Republican colleagues passed “no budget, no pay” legislation to express their dismay with the Senate’s lack of passing a budget. Yet, here we are with no budget from the Republicans nearly 2 months after the April 15 deadline. Without a budget, the Appropriations committee is left with sequester levels that cut $5 billion from Defense and Non-Defense bills. Adding to the fiscal disarray, there seems to be no apparent plan to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a default on the full faith and credit of the United States.
Mr. Chairman, while I appreciate the work on this bill, make no mistake this Committee will not return to regular order without addressing the budget caps as we have done every year since sequestration became law. Our commitment to our men and women in uniform, senior citizens, and working mothers cannot be met under the current budget caps. I urge the Chairman to bring his leadership and the White House to the negotiating table and work with Democrats to raise the budget caps.
I wish to thank the Chairman and Ranking Member for their work on this bill, and I look forward to continuing discussions with them as the bill progresses.