Dems ignore Obama veto, join GOP to pass Veterans Affairs spending bill

Obama threatened to veto the bill mostly because the GOP House is in the process of passing 12 spending bills for 2013 that all together would cut spending by $19 billion compared to the caps Congress and the White House agreed to last year. That has prompted the administration to say it will oppose all House-passed spending bills.

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The military construction/Veterans Affairs bill spends $10.8 billion more than in 2012, but the White House said this increase would "require harmful cuts to other critical priorities such as education, research and development, job training, and health care as other appropriations bills are constructed." The bill, H.R. 5854, would spend $146.4 billion in 2013, reflecting a 10 percent increase in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Still, Democrats on the House floor said they largely support the legislation, and made just a token effort to object to the overall cut Republicans are planning this year.

"I believe the lower allocation does nothing but slow down the appropriations process, and if it stands, will stall economic growth and impede job creation," Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) said.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) said on the floor Thursday that the bill takes care of healthcare costs for veterans, and increases funds for jobs and disability programs for veterans. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) added that it increases discretionary funding for military construction.

But the bill would also impose a pay freeze for federal civilian contractors working in military construction, language that drew some complaints from Democrats, who are looking to hike federal pay by 0.5 percent in 2013.

"I am extremely disappointed that Republicans are asking federal employees to take a freeze in pay for a third year in a row," House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. "Federal employees have already accepted two consecutive pay freezes with the knowledge that the savings would be applied toward meeting our nation’s fiscal challenges."

The bill also included language opposed by Democrats that said no funding could be used to award a construction contract that requires bidders to enter into project labor agreements (PLAs.) That language led to a lengthy debate — similar to the one held last year — in which several Republicans argued that PLAs essentially require construction projects to be completed with union workers.

But the issue has split Republicans for the past few years, and Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) proposed an amendment to strike the language from the bill, which was approved 218-198.

The House turned away another Republican amendment from Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) that would have prevented the Veterans Administration from complying with the Davis-Bacon prevailing wage law for construction projects. That proposal was killed in a 180-237 vote.

Several other amendments were accepted by voice vote Thursday evening.

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