The House Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies (MilCon-VA) Appropriations Subcommittee April 26 held a markup of the FY 2019 MilCon-VA Appropriations Bill. This is the first of the 12 annual appropriations bills to be marked-up for the FY 2019 appropriations season, and it was reported favorably to the full committee by voice vote.
Subcommittee Chairman Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) conducted the markup as a brief overview of the entire spending bill. He noted that the bill provides $83.5 billion for FY 2019 for the VA, matching the total of the President’s budget request and equating to a 4.8 percent increase over FY 2018. This includes an additional $500 million in the Medical Community Care budget for veterans care administered outside of the VA, but not an additional $1.9 billion requested by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to keep the Choice program funded until new community care legislation is passed. The Choice program has historically been funded through mandatory spending, and the committee did not want to stray from that precedent.
During the markup, Ranking Member Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) commented that the subcommittee unanimously rejected the president’s request to merge the VA Medical Services and Community Care accounts. She noted that maintaining separate budgets was the best way to provide transparency and accountability from the committee’s vantage. The president’s FY 2019 budget request called for $63.2 billion in FY 2020 advanced appropriations for the merged accounts. The House bill includes the same total budget for the combined accounts, but splits it into $48.7 billion for Medical Services and $14.4 billion for Medical Community Care. This is a 0.85 percent decrease and 1.37 percent increase, respectively, compared to the FY enacted 2019 advanced appropriation.
Not mentioned in the markup was the VA Medical and Prosthetic Research program budget, totaling $732 million in the FY 2019 appropriations bill. This is a $10 million (1.4 percent increase) over the enacted FY 2018 budget, and $5 million more than the president’s FY 2019 budget request.
Additional committee members used their time to thank Rep. Dent for his hard work in his last appropriations cycle. He announced April 17 that he will resign within weeks.
The markup concluded without any amendments offered. The Senate MilCon-VA Committee is expected to follow soon with the markup of its FY 2019 appropriations bill.
In the meantime, House and Senate VA Committees continue to work on finalizing their work on the Community Care reform bills to revamp the VA Choice program [see in Washington Highlights Dec. 7]. Members hope that they can pass a final package in both chambers by Memorial Day.