President Donald Trump is expected to sign a veterans healthcare bill Wednesday that will expand veterans’ options for obtaining medical care in the private sector; however, the White House is simultaneously working to quash a Congressional effort to provide funding for the new law.
The VA Mission Act authorizes new health care programs for veterans, but the bill does not reserve federal money to pay for those programs. A group of powerful Senate committee chairmen aims to remedy that by amending a separate measure to pay for the new $50 billion law, saying that adding the funds is the best way to ensure the new programs give veterans access to medical care.
The White House is against new spending on the bill and is working behind the scenes to discourage senators from supporting the measure, advocating instead for spending cuts elsewhere to fund the new programs.
In a memo circulating Capitol Hill and obtained by the Post, White House officials call the senators’ measure “anathema to responsible spending” and warn it would lead to “virtually unlimited increases” in spending.
Failing to enact “budgetary constraints” will provide “no incentive to continue to serve veterans with innovative, streamlined and efficient quality of care”, the memo states.
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, argued that if Congress does not ratify his proposal, the alternative could be to cut $10 billion a year for five years from existing programs, including initiatives within the Veterans Affairs Department.
“If we don’t get on it we’re going to have a hole of $10 billion in our approps,” Shelby said Tuesday, predicting “some real trouble.”
The White House disagrees, saying the programs can be funded through the existing budget and will not accept new spending.
“We have a responsibility to provide our Veterans with the care they deserve, while also being good stewards of the taxpayer dollar,” the administration said in a statement.
The Post notes that the current disagreements over funding could be a sign of what is to come as the next chance for a government shutdown is just a few months away on September 30:
Trump has already issued demands for more money for his border wall, something likely to meet resistance in the Senate, setting up the possibility of a shutdown showdown weeks before elections that will decide control of Congress.