WASHINGTON — House Republicans this week moved to clarify veterans' status under their proposed new health care bill and hopefully erase one of their political opponents' chief criticisms about the controversial measure.
Members of the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday advanced a measure "to clarify the rules relating to veteran health insurance and eligibility for the premium tax credit" by a 22-14 party line vote. Republican leaders said the measure would simply reassert existing rules and does not create any new regulations governing veterans.
"We just want to make sure the current course continues," said committee chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas.
Democrats labeled the move an admission of guilt by GOP leaders.
"We need this because the (Republican health care bill) did not provide equal treatment for veterans," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas. "This bill as it passed did not treat veterans as it did other Americans."
Even before the new American Health Care Act passed the House earlier this month (with no Democratic support), critics have charged the legislation could harm up to 7 million veterans by making them ineligible for health care tax credits
At issue is legislative language originally in the bill but removed in March that specifically stated veterans eligible for VA medical services but not enrolled in them would receive the tax credits. Democrats said the change excluded veterans from the benefit. Republicans have dismissed the charge, calling the language superfluous because the exception is already spelled out in existing Internal Revenue Service rules.
In the face of mounting attacks on the legislation, a group of Republican lawmaker veterans — including Texas Rep. Sam Johnson and Tennessee Rep. Phil Roe — have pushed for the "Veterans Equal Treatment Ensures Relief and Access Now Act," to cover that possible gap.
Because of legislative rules, the provision cannot be included in the massive health care bill itself. GOP leaders expect to move the measure to a full chamber vote quickly as the Senate begins its debate on how to advance the American Health Care Act.
Before Wednesday’s vote, several Republicans mocked their colleagues for creating a false controversy surrounding the veterans issue and then opposing an attempt to fix the problem. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., blasted Democrats on the committee as "completely duplicitous" and suggested they wanted veterans to be ineligible for the financial assistance.
But Democrats on the panel said the issue is just one example of the rushed and sloppy nature of the health care bill, designed to replace the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said even if the new measure corrects the tax credit problem, it won’t fix numerous other issues in the health care bill that will harm veterans, including cuts to Medicaid and other assistance programs.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.