Top Republican says Trump greenlit budget fix for VA health care

Top Republican says Trump greenlit budget fix for VA health care
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President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE on Wednesday signaled that he won't oppose a Senate plan to allow some Veterans Affairs health care funding to be exempted from budget caps.  

Sen. Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyNegotiators report progress toward 2022 spending deal Johnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence Alabama GOP gears up for fierce Senate primary clash MORE (R-Ala.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, met with Trump and their staff at the White House to discuss how to fund the government, as senators prepare to start working on bills as soon as next month. 

Shelby said on Wednesday that they were planning to move forward with that plan after the president said he would be "neutral" on how Congress addressed the VA funding hole.

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"He said he was okay. He said he understood the problem. That he’d be neutral, in other words, [on] whatever we did on this. So that's where we're going to try to do," Shelby said. 

Asked if Trump was saying he would accept Congress's decision, Shelby added that Trump "said he understood it. He used the word, he was okay ... I told him we were going to do this, how we were going to do it." 

The White House meeting came after Shelby and Senate Republicans agreed last week that they would consider funding the VA Mission Act — a 2018 law that expands veterans access to private doctors — as "emergency" spending, which would exempt it from the budget caps. 

Overall nondefense spending for fiscal 2021, which includes the VA, was agreed to as part of a two-year budget deal. That means if senators include more money for the VA without changing the budget cap, they have to strip funding from other nondefense programs.

That would have ramifications for the top-line spending figures for all 12 funding bills, known as 302 (b)s, which the Senate Appropriations Committee still needs to pass.

Republicans signaled last week that they had drafted top-line numbers but wanted to try to resolve the VA funding issue before moving forward. 

"It would certainly solve a lot of problems if it was considered an emergency, particularly if that's what the House is going to do," said Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntJohnson, Thune signal GOP's rising confidence Senate Minority Whip Thune, close McConnell ally, to run for reelection The end of orphanages starts with family strengthening programs MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership and the Appropriations Committee.

Congress has until the end of September to pass the 12 fiscal 2021 government funding bills or a continuing resolution that would continue funding at the fiscal 2020 level.

Shelby said on Wednesday that they would now “finish up our allocations, go from there and probably have some hearings, markups after we get back."

"It’ll probably take a couple of weeks after we get back. This is all a lot of work," he added.