First 2015 spending bill cleared by House panel

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved the first of 12 annual appropriations bills.
 
The bill approved covers military construction and the Veterans Affairs Department.
 
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The biggest drama of the markup hearing came during debate over an amendment by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) that would have removed rider language preventing the transfer to U.S. prisons of detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
 
The Moran amendment was defeated in a 20-30 vote with all but two of the panel's Democrats voting in favor.
 
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), a champion of prisoner rights who is retiring at the end of the year, said his visit to Cuba last year convinced him the detainees are too dangerous for transfer and that the amendment would “break the back of the Bureau of Prisons.”
 
The bill also contains language aimed at forcing the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to integrate their patients records, a persistent problem that has exacerbated a veterans claims backlog.
 
The VA will not get 75 percent of its information technology budget until it reports to Congress that it is making progress on integrating with the Pentagon.
 
“Young people are suffering horribly because of the ineptitude of these agencies,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the panel's chairman.
 
The bill for 2015 cuts spending on military construction while boosting funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
 
In all, the committee’s legislation provides $71.5 billion in discretionary spending for military construction and Veterans Affairs, $1.8 billion less than what was enacted last year.
 
The bill provides $6.6 billion for military construction, a cut of $3.3 billion compared to 2014 appropriation levels. This is what the Obama administration requested. 
 
The panel says the spending reduction is attributed to a lack of need for new military construction projects.
 
The appropriation measure increases funding for veterans programs, meanwhile, by $1.5 billion.
 
Rogers wants to move all 12 bills through committee by the end of June and through the House by Congress's August recess. He said the committee is off to its fastest start since at least 1974.

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