Proposals to slash VA funding are withdrawn at last minute

Three amendments submitted this week under the name of Minority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, to the House Rules Committee would have sliced proposed fiscal 2011 Veterans Affairs Department funding by more than $52 million.

But all three amendments were abruptly withdrawn Tuesday, just moments before the committee was set to approve them for consideration Wednesday by the entire House.

The amendments had each been submitted to the Rules Committee Monday as possible changes to the proposed $77.3 billion fiscal 2011 spending bill for military construction, the Veterans Affairs Department and related agencies.

"I thought it was extraordinary that someone would want to cut the VA budget to the bone," said Rules Chairwoman Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. But Slaughter also characterized as "unusual" the sudden request to withdraw the Boehner amendments.

"Yes, the request to withdraw came right before our meeting, very last second, very unusual," confirmed Rules Committee spokesman Vincent Morris.

A House Republican source said Boehner's amendments "would have cut bureaucrats, not veterans' benefits."

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, pressed about why the amendments were withdrawn, said: "Given the limits that Speaker [Rep. Nancy] Pelosi has put on floor debate on appropriations bills, Boehner chose to defer to other Republicans with jurisdiction and expertise on the VA, who had been working on other amendments."

The Rules Committee proceeded during its Tuesday meeting to approve 14 other amendments and the terms of Wednesday's floor debate on the spending bill.

None of the amendments approved for consideration address the same funding issues Boehner raised in his amendments.

One of those amendments would have reduced funding to the VA's Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs by more than $2.8 million. Another would have reduced funding for the VA's Office of Policy and Planning by $14.1 million.

The third amendment would have reduced funding for items related to VA-Informational Technology by $45 million.

Democrats who control the Rules Committee intended to allow all three of Boehner's amendments to go the floor -- that is, before Boehner's office abruptly notified the committee it wanted to withdraw the amendments.

Democratic sources said there was some surprise within the committee that the top House Republican would be personally calling for cutting VA funding in an election year.

Among the amendments the committee agreed to allow for floor consideration is one by Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., that would prohibit Defense Department funding in the bill from being used to renovate or construct any facility within the continental United States for the purpose of housing anyone now held at the military's detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Other amendments include one by Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., that would prohibit funding for all of the member-requested earmarks for the bill's military construction projects and a proposal by Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., to provide $162.7 million of the amounts provided for the Veterans Affairs Department's minor construction account for renewable energy projects at VA medical facility campuses.

The spending bill, which passed the full House Appropriations Committee last week with bipartisan support, also includes $50.6 billion advance appropriations for fiscal 2012. The bill's $77.3 billion in discretionary funding is a slight decrease from the $78 billion Congress provided in fiscal 2010.

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