House Republicans say President Biden and Democrats are lying about cuts to services for veterans under legislation recently passed in the chamber to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default on the national debt.
The GOP-led bill, which Senate Democrats and the White House say is a nonstarter because it slashes budgets across the federal government, would return nondefense spending to 2022 levels. Democrats and the VA argue that would amount to a 22% cut to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The GOP legislation does not cite specific cuts to the VA or its programs, but it also does not include safeguards to ensure the agency is not affected by the proposed spending decreases.
“Joe Biden and Democrats are so desperate to cover up for Joe Biden‘s weakness and absolute failure on the debt ceiling negotiations, that they’re shamelessly lying about veterans benefits and politicizing the VA to do so,” House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik said on a call to reporters Sunday. “This is unfortunately nothing new.”
Rep. Mike Bost, Illinois Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, sought to offer assurances that the Republican bill would allow money to be shifted around throughout the federal government so that cuts would not affect the VA.
“Let me repeat this again, and we’re going to repeat it several times: No cuts to the VA budget. No veteran will lose benefits. Their benefits are owed to them,” Mr. Bost said.
He said that “in my nine years as a member of Congress, I have never seen the use of an agency that is so vitally important to so many people be used as a political hammer to deliver a message that is false so that it would stir people up to cause our veterans to be used as pawns.”
The VA has said returning to last year’s funding levels, which would amount to roughly $130 billion in cuts to nondefense programs and agencies for the next fiscal year, would cost 81,000 jobs and mean 30 million fewer outpatient visits for veterans.
The Republican measure would raise the debt limit by $1.5 trillion until May 2024 with $4.8 trillion in deficit reduction measures, cap budget growth to 1% annually over the next decade, rescind at least $90.5 billion in unspent pandemic relief, cancel Mr. Biden’s student loan forgiveness program, and scrap green-energy tax credits that Democrats passed last year.
The legislation’s passage turned up the pressure on Mr. Biden to strike a deal with Republicans in exchange for raising the debt limit, a move he has so far resisted.
“We just passed a bill that addresses the debt ceiling. And for all that we hear from our Senate friends, they’ve yet to pass anything. If they got a better idea, I want to see that bill and tell them to pass it through the Senate,” House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Mr. Scalise says Mr. Biden now has to come to the negotiating table.
“It’s time now for the president to get in this game, get off the sidelines and let’s start negotiating and figuring this out — not in June when we get into the midnight hour, but today,” he said.
Most Senate Democrats are sticking by Mr. Biden in his refusal to negotiate spending cuts to lift the debt ceiling, but cracks have begun to emerge among more moderate and swing-district Democrats who say the U.S. can’t risk defaulting.
It’s been months since House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, and Mr. Biden sat down to discuss the impending fiscal cliff, which is expected to occur sometime in June.
Sen. Bernard Sanders endorsed the idea of Mr. Biden coming to the negotiating table but only over federal spending cuts in the annual budget. He said anything other than a clean debt limit raise to avert a default on the national debt should be off the table.
“I think we can start negotiating tomorrow, but you cannot be holding the American people or the world’s economy hostage,” Mr. Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “What the Republicans have got to say is, ‘absolutely, we are going to make sure that we pay our debts.’ Let’s sit down and negotiate a budget.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat, repeated the Democratic talking point about Republicans and veterans’ benefits as he defended Mr. Biden.
“The president’s saying he’s not going to be hostage in having veterans cuts on health care and having cuts on K through 12 education, in having cuts on food stamps, in having cuts in manufacturing to just pay our bills,” Mr. Khanna said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
• Ramsey Touchberry can be reached at email@example.com.
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