- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 21, 2003

House Republicans accused Democrats of lying about phantom cuts in veterans benefits and pledged to “refute the deceit” if Democrats celebrate Memorial Day with political events designed to “scare our veterans.”

Rep. Deborah Pryce, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Republican Conference, slammed Democrats yesterday for issuing press releases, writing op-ed pieces and planning media events that contend the Republican budget reduces veterans health benefits this year by $6.2 billion.

Mrs. Pryce pointed out the Republican budget that was approved on April 11 allocated $63.8 billion for veterans, an increase of $6.2 billion, or 10.9 percent, from 2003.

“Democrats are trying to scare our veterans,” Mrs. Pryce said. “Shame on them. We’re here to tell the truth and expose the dishonesty of the other side.

“[Democrats] are telling lies. Just as they lie and try to scare seniors on issues like Social Security and Medicare, Democrats are now playing politics with veterans and testing new careers as fiction writers,” she said.

During the past several weeks, some House Democrats have written op-ed columns for their local newspapers or have been quoted in the press as decrying cuts to veterans benefits in the Republican budget.

Their figures have come from a report prepared by the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee. The report cited proposed cuts in veterans benefits and increases in some fees that were in the budget submitted by the White House.

“Republicans claimed the cuts for 2004 were necessary to achieve a balanced budget — but really it was to make room for the massive tax cuts proposed by the administration that are geared largely to the wealthiest Americans,” said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.

While the House’s version of the budget reflected those cuts, said Rep. Rob Simmons, Connecticut Republican and a member of the House Veterans Committee, the final budget approved by the whole Congress and signed by President Bush did not.

“When they said Congress adopted these restrictions, that’s where the fiction begins,” said Mr. Simmons, a Vietnam veteran. “This is the highest-ever increase in overall medical care for veterans.”

Rep. John M. Spratt Jr., South Carolina Democrat and ranking member of the House Budget Committee, told fellow Democrats in a May 16 “Dear Colleague” letter of an agreement in the budget that “assumes” the implementation of $250 enrollment fees and various levels of co-payments for some higher-income veterans to receive care.

Peter Fitzgerald, communications director for Republicans on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said Mr. Spratt “is just flat wrong.”

“It’s not in the bill,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sent out a memo to fellow Democrats Monday suggesting possible “Memorial Day recess activities.”

Among the ideas was to hold a press conference “to announce the results of your Government Reform Committee report, which details the average waiting times for veterans’ health care in your district.”

“The message of this event is: As we celebrate Memorial Day and honor our veterans and servicemen and women, it is shameful that many of our nation’s veterans are unable to receive the health care they need in a timely basis,” Mrs. Pelosi wrote.

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