House panel unveils $77B bill to fund military bases, vets' benefits

The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday released a $76.6 billion bill to fund military and veteran housing, benefits, training and maintenance — $1.2 billion below President Obama’s budget request.

Members of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees these areas will mark up the legislation on Wednesday. GOP leaders have already scheduled a floor vote on the measure before the House leaves for its next recess in early May.

The bill provides $4.6 billion above the 2015 level and includes funding Congress already approved in advance appropriations last year for veterans.

For military construction projects, the bill provides $7.7 billion, which is $904 million above the 2015 level and $755 million below Obama’s budget request. The funds cover construction and renovation projects on military bases around the world.

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Republicans honor Obama’s request to provide $1.4 billion to fund the construction of military family housing, which is $223 million above the 2015 level.

The bill provides $150 million for NATO’s Security Investment Program, which funds infrastructure for wartime and peace operations as well as training.

“The funds will support responses to the challenges posed by Russia and to the risks and threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa,” a bill summary says.

The bill provides $68.7 billion in discretionary spending for the Department of Veterans Affairs, $58.7 billion of which was approved last year in an advance appropriations bill.

Republicans also meet Obama’s request to provide $63.3 billion in advance appropriations for fiscal 2017 funding for veterans’ medical programs.

The bill provides $233 million for the modernization of the Veterans Affairs’ electronic health record system as well as the following to address the disability claims backlog: $290 million for the paper processing system, $141 million for the digital scanning of health records and $26 million for centralized mail.

The bill provides $71 million for Arlington National Cemetery.

Appropriators have also drafted the 2016 spending bill that covers energy and water development.

Floor votes on the spending bills, however, cannot happen before May 15 unless Republicans in the House and Senate reach a deal on their separate budgets. The leadership’s floor schedule indicates GOP lawmakers are confident they’ll reach an agreement before the end of April.

If Congress can’t pass all 12 appropriations bills before the end of September and have them signed by President Obama, lawmakers will likely have no choice but to wrap the spending bills into several packages or one major one.