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Big VA budget boost included in controversial spending bill

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The passage — by a 227-194 party line vote — was the second major appropriations package advanced by the chamber this month, as party leaders set their priorities for fiscal 2020 spending and push back on White House demands for more military spending and less money for other domestic priorities.

The measure spans seven federal agencies, including the Departments of Commerce, Justice, and Housing and Urban Development. More than half of the total would go to the Department of Veterans Affairs, which would see its budget rise nearly 10 percent to $217.5 billion in fiscal 2020 under the plan.

That total is slightly more than the White House request for the department next year, and represents yet another significant annual boost for veterans support programs. It’s nearly nearly double the total VA funding level from 10 years ago and more than four times the total in fiscal 2001, when the entire VA budget was only about $45 billion.

“(This legislation) will provide significant and enhanced funding for the VA, deliver on our promise of medical care and benefits that veterans have earned through service to our nation, and make smart investments in critical programs that make a real difference in the lives of servicemembers and veterans,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee’s panel on veterans issues, said in a statement.

The legislation also includes $10.5 billion in military construction funding, with a boost of $140 million specifically to help improve the quality of family housing at and near bases across the country.

The move came in response to widespread reports of mold, vermin, and unaddressed repairs at privatized military housing units earlier this year. Lawmakers have planned additional reforms to address the issue in the annual defense authorization bill, to be voted on by the full chamber next month.

But despite support for the VA funding and military housing reforms, the latest appropriations package faces an uncertain future after a threatened White House veto.

Administration officials have objected to not only the scope of non-defense spending in the bill (excluding the VA money) but also restrictions on border security funding included in the measure.

Democratic lawmakers did not include several billion dollars extra requested by the White House for construction of President Donald Trump’s controversial southern border wall, but did include language limiting the administration’s ability to move around military construction funding for the work.

Both provisions drew criticism from House Republicans and White House officials, who said the bill as written “would interfere with the president’s constitutional authority and duty to protect national security, as well as his authority as commander in chief.”

Senate lawmakers have not yet passed any appropriations measures, but chamber leaders have signaled similar opposition to the House plan.





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