Finance

Budget chairs press appropriators on veterans spending

The chairmen of the House and Senate budget committees have weighed in on a debate on how to fund a veterans program that has thrown a wrench into the 2019 appropriations process.

Last week, the House and Senate Appropriations committees abruptly canceled a conference committee meeting to sort out differences over a package of three spending bills because of disagreements on veterans funding.

Their question is whether to fund an expensive veterans program, the VA Mission Act, under existing budget caps that would require offsets elsewhere or by using an off-the-books technique.

Budget chairmen Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy.) and Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) sided with House Republicans in seeking to keep the spending on the books, even if it meant offsets elsewhere.

"It is entirely reasonable to expect that Congress can find the $1-2 billion needed within the overall $597 billion spending limit," they wrote to their colleagues on the appropriations committee.

Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) vocally opposed the move last week, noting that the budget shortfall was set to increase to $8.67 billion by 2020.

"We do our veterans no favors when we make promises to them that we cannot keep. Our veterans made a commitment to our country, and the very least we should do is keep our country's commitment to them," he said.

Under the current spending caps, he noted, "deep cuts into other veterans programs" would be necessary.

The Trump White House on Monday sent a letter demanding fiscal discipline for the program.

"House Republicans are in lock step with the Administration and will not support the idea of busting the caps, which we just agreed to in March," an administration official said.

-Updated 11:42 a.m.

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