White House officials on Monday threatened to veto House Republicans’ plan for funding the Veterans Affairs programs next fiscal year, saying the appropriations outline as written contains too many partisan attacks on controversial social issues.
The $320 billion spending plan expected to be voted on this week by House lawmakers roughly matches funding levels requested by President Joe Biden in his federal budget proposal released last spring. But administration officials said amendments added onto the plan by GOP lawmakers on the House Appropriations have made the proposal unacceptable.
“The draft bill includes numerous new, partisan policy provisions with devastating consequences including harming access to reproductive healthcare, threatening the health and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex Americans, endangering marriage equality, hindering critical climate change initiatives, and preventing the Administration from promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion,” they said in a statement opposing the bill.
“If the president were presented with [the bill], he would veto it.”
The Veterans Affairs budget is typically less controversial than most appropriations fights on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers providing significant annual increases in department spending since 2000.
The plan for fiscal 2024 includes a 6% boost over last year’s funding levels for the department, a mark hailed by members of both parties as keeping up with the increased needs of the country’s veteran population.
But Democratic lawmakers opposed the measure as it was advanced last month by the House Appropriations Committee because of the additional amendments on social issues.
Under language outlined in the plan, VA’s rules regarding expanded abortion access for veterans and eligible family members would be repealed, and the department would be allowed to provide those services only in cases of rape, incest and imminent danger to the life of the patient.
The bill would also eliminate a wide range of health care services for transgender veterans, including hormone therapies. And it would bar VA officials from flying LGBT pride flags at any department facility, punishing staffers who refuse to recognize same-sex marriages, or conducting diversity training programs.
Republican lawmakers have said the moves are needed to depoliticize the department after radical moves by the administration in recent years. White House officials accused them of “wasting time with partisan bills.”
Given the Republicans’ slim majority in the House, the budget bill is expected to pass later this week even after the president’s veto threat. However, Democrats hold the majority in the Senate, and lawmakers there have already expressed concerns about the controversial provisions in the House appropriations bill.
That could mean a lengthy negotiation between the two chambers on the final budget plan for VA. Both the House and Senate are scheduled to leave town for a late-summer recess at the end of this week, and will return in early September with only a few weeks before the deadline to pass a federal budget deal or risk triggering a partial government shutdown.
VA health care and benefits programs are funded a full year in advance, so such a shutdown would only impact a small fraction of department employees and programs. But an extended fight over full funding for the VA risks public backlash over creating long-term problems for veterans dependent on federal aid.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.