Friday, June 08, 2018

Trump balks at effort to fund veterans' health care bill he just signed; goal is partly to improve rural vets' access to care

President Trump signed a $50 billion veterans' health-care bill on Wednesday, but is fighting a bipartisan plan to pay for it with increased spending. Instead, White House aides have sent memos to Senate Republicans urging them to fund it through spending cuts, warning them that "without subjecting the program to any budgetary constraint, there is no incentive to continue to serve veterans with innovative, streamlined and efficient quality of care," Erica Werner and Lisa Rein report for The Washington Post.

But Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby, R-Ala., argued Tuesday that such spending cuts would cause other veterans programs to be cut and trigger a "hole of $10 billion" in appropriations.

The Post reports, "The opposition to the funding plan is the latest demonstration of Trump’s variable approach to the longtime stated Republican goal of fiscal discipline. On some issues, most prominently last year’s $1.5 trillion tax bill or immigration measures such as the border wall, Trump has signed off on legislation projected to massively increase the federal deficit. On others, such as the veterans bill and emergency legislation to support communities impacted by last year’s devastating hurricanes and the California wildfires, he has demanded offsetting spending cuts."

Most of the legislation's costs come from allowing veterans to see doctors operating outside the VA system, a move designed partly to resolve complaints from rural veterans that they have difficulty making and keeping appointments. Phillip Carter, a senior researcher at nonprofit think tank the Rand Corp., told the Post that the bill could increase demand for medical care at VA hospitals, since alleviating the backlog would encourage more veterans to seek health care. The bill to fund the veterans health care bill has been attached to the VA appropriations bill and could be up for debate soon, the Post reports.

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