The American people expect their members of Congress to make tough decisions while in office, and that is what we are currently doing as we work on the bills , “appropriations bills” in Washingtonian-speak , which fund our government programs.
I am proud of the fact that Congress is diligently working on these bills to ensure that we not only remain within our spending limits, but keep the Social Security surplus out of the equation. After all, Social Security is a trust fund, not a slush fund, and we must stop the 30-year raid of its surplus.
The Defense Appropriations bill and the Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development (VA/HUD) Appropriations bill, which were recently passed out of the House, are good examples of how Congress can spend within the budget limits, and keep its promises to our military men and women, and military retirees and veterans. These bills not only provide necessary funding to overcome military pay shortfalls and inadequate military housing, but keep the promises made to out military retirees and veterans. This has all been accomplished without spending one penny of the Social Security surplus.
The VA/HUD Appropriations bill provides $90.8 billion for veterans benefits, the Department of Veteran Affairs, HUD, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Specifically, VA/HUD address veterans needs by providing a $1.7 billion increase for Veterans Medical Health Care , the largest increase since the 1980s , with funding totaling $19 billion. The president’s original request was $17.3 billion.
VA Funding Increase
The bill provides a $5 million increase for Veterans Medical and Prosthetic Research over the President’s request, bringing total funding to $321 million. An extra $51 million is provided for the Veterans Benefits Administration to expedite claims processing, which now totals $913 million. The National Cemetery Administration is fully funded with $97 million. Most importantly, VA/HUD more than doubles the president’s request for Veterans State Extended Care Facilities from $40 million to $90 million. This increase in funding will allow these facilities to better serve our nation’s aging military retirees and veterans.
The Defense Appropriations bill provides $267.7 billion in military funding, $4.5 billion more than the president’s request, while remaining within the overall funding levels set by the 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement. It provides an increase of $17.3 billion over the current fiscal year defense appropriation, which is the first funding increase in an annual defense appropriations bill in 14 years. One of the top priorities set by the bill is to improve training benefits and quality of life for the armed services’ most valuable asset , the 2.2 million men and women who serve our country.
Service Pay Increase
The bill boosts the pay for the nation’s active-duty service men and women by 4.8 percent. It adds $399.2 million for recruiting, retention and quality of life initiatives such as improved housing for all services, and bonuses for Air Force pilots who sustained American’s status as a superpower during the recent Kosovo engagement. The bill adds $100 million to upgrade military housing allowances. Importantly, it also adds $1.3 billion to operations and maintenance. Ensuring that such basic needs as spare parts and war reserve, training, base operations and support equipment are provided to our military.
These appropriations bills take major steps toward putting American’s military on the road to recovery after almost seven years of neglect from our current administration. Nothing is more important to the national government, to the United States, and indeed to the world than our commitment to the strongest and best military force in the world.
Congress, in true bipartisan spirit, recognizes that while it can be very expensive to protect world peace, the terrible costs of war can be infinitely greater. And we must remain committed to our military men and women, while keeping our promises to America’s military retirees and veterans.
Bilbray, a Republican, represents the 49th Congressional District.