Bolstering a White House veto threat, House Democrats on Wednesday began lining up against a Republican bill funding the Veterans Affairs Department next year.
"I won't support it," Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday, "and I don't believe our Caucus will support that, either."
Addressing the Democrats at a closed-door caucus meeting in the Capitol Wednesday, VA Secretary Robert McDonald warned the lawmakers that the GOP's $77 billion bill funding the department and military construction projects in fiscal 2016 falls short of the resources needed to provide health and other services to the nation's veterans.
Relaying McDonald's message, Rep. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden to make voting rights play in Atlanta Democrats eager to fill power vacuum after Pelosi exit Overnight Health Care — Insurance will soon cover COVID-19 tests MORE (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said the GOP's bill would scale back health benefits for roughly 70,000 veterans, while also denying funds for medical research, education and veterans’ cemeteries.
"The secretary came and sent a very strong message, something we rarely hear: 'Please don't let this funding bill become law, if you care about our veterans. We must do better for them,'" Becerra said.
Passed with bipartisan support by the House Appropriations Committee last week, the bill provides a 5.6 percent increase for the VA over 2015 levels, but falls more than $1 billion shy of the figure President Obama had included in his 2016 budget request.
Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) hailed the measure as "a balanced, thorough bill that will help improve the quality of life … [and] address the current and future needs of our veterans."
The Democratic leaders see it differently, accusing the Republicans of adhering to spending levels dictated by the "incoherent" sequester law at the expense of veterans.
"We should not use the excuse — anyone in Congress — that sequester made you do this," Becerra said. "If we divest in the Veterans Administration for something as incoherent as a bad law … then we're doing injustice and disservice to our veterans."
Scheduled for a floor vote Wednesday evening, the VA funding bill is expected to pass with overwhelming Republican support.
But the White House on Tuesday issued a statement threatening to veto the measure, saying it “fails” to fund building upgrades on military bases and expansions to medical facilities used by veterans.
The staunch opposition from leading Democrats suggests the president's House allies would be able to sustain a veto if GOP leaders passed the bill and attempted to override the president.