Republicans Vow Not to Cut Veterans’ Benefits. But the Legislation Suggests Otherwise.

by | May 9, 2023 | Health

Addressing the impact of the House GOP debt-ceiling bill on veterans’ programs,“I’m dead serious that we’re not cutting veterans, and I mean it.”

Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, in a speech on the House floor, April 26.

House Republicans have set themselves a tough, if not impossible, task in attempting to use a standoff over the nation’s debt limit to cut federal spending to what it was in 2022.

Retrenching to those budget levels would require cutting 8% or 9% from the discretionary program side of the ledger, which excludes entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Spending on those programs is required by law. Other spending is dictated by congressional appropriations annually. The latter is up for debate here.

Nevertheless, House Republicans tried to thread the needle with the Limit, Save, Grow Act, which narrowly passed the House on April 26. Its backers say the measure would address the debt ceiling while implementing “commonsense spending reforms.” The House GOP leadership promised to spare programs that are popular with Republican voters, such as the defense budget and veterans’ health services.

Democrats pounced on these possible cuts, especially those that would affect veterans. Their talking points appeared to infuriate Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. On the House floor, he drew a line in the sand.

“I’m dead serious that we’re not cutting veterans, and I mean it,” Bost said. “The White House and Democrats know that we can get our fiscal house in order while ensuring our service members and veterans are taken care of, and yet, with no regard for the impact of their words, they continue to speak lies about how House Republicans are cutting veterans’ benefits.”

(Credit: C-SPAN)

With such an unequivocal statement, we wondered whether Bost was correct. Can the GOP plan dramatically reduce federal spending without taking away funding for veterans’ programs?

To understand this fully, two things need to be examined: the budget projections that suggest the GOP plan would result in trims to veterans’ programs, and what is spelled out in the legislation.

Digging Into the Numbers

Democrats and agencies within the Biden administration, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, looked at the GOP bill and did their own math to determine budgetary estimates.

Because the bill is mostly a list of general spending categories, the estimates reflect uniform cuts to discretionary spending. And, because there is no specific language in the House-passed measure to exempt support for veterans’ programs, the VA assumed a full, 22% cut for fiscal year 2024 compared with 2023 funding and estimated reductions as high as $29.7 billion.

That could translate to 13 million fewer health care appointments for veterans and significant cuts to benefit payments, staffing, and clinic construction, according to the agency.

Bost’s communications director, Kathleen McCarthy, said, however, that Democrats are knowingly making a bogus assumption that cuts will be applied evenly, and pointed to public statements by Republican leaders who have insisted veterans will be spared.

“We make sure that our veterans and our service members are taken care of,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said in a speech at the New York Stock Exchange last month.

“We will provide for our national defense, take care of veterans, and secure our border — all while reducing overall spending,” House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-Texas) said when Republicans unveiled their plan.

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