Wasserman Schultz statement at subcommittee markup of 2018 MilCon-VA bill
Thank you for yielding Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, since my first day as Ranking Member, you have set a cooperative tone --- thank you for continuing to be inclusive as we work through this process.
I believe the Chairman has worked very hard with an extremely limited amount of time to get to this point. When I say limited, I mean limited in that the Full budget request with account details was released May 23rd and 21 days later we are marking up a bill.
However, even with this short period you were able to address many members’ concerns including one that is very personal to me, which is the issue of breast cancer. As you know, after our visit to the Washington VA Medical Center, we learned that the VA was relying on the controversial USPSTF guidance for mammography in making coverage decisions. Last Congress, we passed a law that prohibited insurers from making coverage decisions based on these guidelines through 2018. However, the moratorium did not apply to the VA, and so women in their 40s could be denied mammograms.
To its credit, the VA recently changed its guideline regarding screening, and with your support, language is included to hold the VA to this better standard. I truly appreciate your help on this.
I’m also extremely grateful for the Chairman’s support on another priority, that’s both very important to me, and so many service members. All Veterans deserve to be able to start families. This bill provides access to IVF treatment, which is consistent with the VA’s goal to support veterans and improve their quality of life.
Veterans who are unable to conceive children deserve the care and support they need to start a family.
I am pleased with several aspects of the bill. The MilCon portion of the bill is up $1.8 billion dollars over last year’s enacted level.
In my opinion, the FY 2018 request adequately provides funding for both the Active and Reserve Components.
I was pleased to see that for the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) account, the bill provides $35 million above the FY 2019 budget request to help expedite the clean-up of former Defense Department sites.
I am also pleased to see that the Chairman listened to concerns I raised during our discussions regarding the NATO Security Investment Program and funded the account at the FY 2017 enacted level.
I believe this sends a strong message to our Nation’s allies that we stand with them.
For the Department of Veterans Affairs, Title II is $3.9 billion dollars above the FY 2017 enacted level — a 5.3 % increase over FY 2017 enacted level.
The mark also fully funds the FY 2018 “second bite” of the apple ($2.6 billion) which brings the total amount provided for VA medical care to $69 billion dollars, which is a 6.8 percent increase over FY 2017 enacted level. Very few agencies will be able to say they faired this well during what I think history will call the “budget cap years.”
Speaking of which Mr. Chairman, you and I have had a lot of discussions regarding the FY 2018 Budget and what the BCA caps mean for our Committee’s work.
Mr. Chairman, while I believe this is a good allocation for the FY 2018 MilconVA Bill, I am concerned what this allocation means for the other bills.
As you know, the Budget Control Act reduces our FY 2018 Committee’s 302(a) from $1.070 trillion to $1.065 trillion, a $2 billion dollar reduction on the Defense side and $3 billion on the non-defense side. To put this into perspective, in FY 2010 the Committee’s 302(a) allocation was $1.09 trillion dollars.
With this, we are clearly starting off in a hole— a deep one in fact.
Mr. Chairman, at this point I think we all recognize that the BCA was terrible policy and I believe it is time to address this issue once and for all so we can get back to regular order and bring some stability to the Appropriations process.
I believe the only way for this Committee to get back to regular order is to work together and get rid of the BCA caps.
If we do not address this issue, we will yet again experience another summer in which we fail to pass all twelve bills through the House and ultimately must pass a CR causing further strain on the federal government.
Mr. Chairman, it is clear that a solution will require a bipartisan majority of both Houses. I believe every member of this Committee is ready to work and do the right thing. I believe that it is time we get past these unrealistic beliefs that we can cut our way to prosperity.
If this failed philosophy persists, our work and our mandate will only getter tougher. We must be more strategic about how we handle our federal budget.
This committee’s work becomes even more difficult as we must balance the needs of the VA with the other federal agencies.
I think we can agree it is time to stop creating these artificial crises.
Mr. Chairman, these mark-ups represent the first step in a long process. I commit to you that Democrats stand ready to work with you to address these issues as we move forward in the appropriations process.
Thank you Mr. Chairman and I yield back.