Republicans mull options on filling VA budget shortfall

House Republicans might include a stand-alone bill to address the funding shortfall for veterans' health services, while the Senate is prepared to add $1.5 billion as early as Wednesday to an unrelated $26.3 billion fiscal 2006 Interior appropriations bill.

Veterans Affairs Secretary James Nicholson told House and Senate lawmakers at separate hearings Tuesday that the agency would have enough money through internal accounting moves to cover gaps in funding this year.

Nicholson said that might create a need for an additional $1.5 billion to carry the department through fiscal 2006, which prompted the Senate Republicans' amendment to the Interior bill from Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and others.

Initial indications are that the House might scale back that figure, suspecting that in the rush to provide answers to angry lawmakers, the VA might have overstated the extent of its cash flow problem. "We want solutions, not just subsidies," a House Republican aide said.

Top House GOP lawmakers said no final decision has been made, but did not rule out bringing up a stand-alone bill this week to address the shortfall.

"That hasn't been communicated to me yet," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said, adding a final figure had not been settled on.

House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said a stand-alone bill was a possibility once the Office of Management and Budget tallies a fiscal 2006 budget amendment.

Senate votes, including on competing Democratic versions, might come Wednesday. Craig, who discussed his amendment with OMB, said the $1.5 billion "should provide the VA with more than enough to backfill the VA's current needs under the 2005 budget and carry over more money into 2006."

As drafted, the funds would become available upon enactment of the bill and would not require an adjustment to the $843 billion 2006 discretionary spending cap.

Lawmakers expect to complete work on the Interior appropriations bill possibly before the August recess, making it an attractive vehicle to speed the extra money to depleted VA accounts. House aides did not rule that out as an option either, but said they were waiting for more information before making a funding determination.

All of the maneuvering was taking place against the backdrop of President Bush's primetime Iraq speech Tuesday night, and in deciding to offer their own plan, Senate GOP leaders were clearly sensitive to the drumbeat of Democratic attacks on the White House for its handling of veterans' services.

Senate Democrats offered their own $1.42 billion healthcare amendment to the Interior bill, and Craig said he had considered adding even more funds to his amendment to make up for funds taken from equipment and maintenance accounts to plug the gap in medical services, as in the Democratic version.

"Everybody tries to outdo each other with veterans because everybody tries to look favorable to veterans," Craig said. "Has there been a little gamesmanship around here? Yes. But that's not unusual around here. The reality is, it has always been bipartisan," he added, saying he reached out to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and other Democrats on the issue.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.