The House Appropriations Committee moved quickly in its first week of markups, approving an amended fiscal year (FY) 2021 Military Construction, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies (MilCon-VA) spending bill by a vote of 30-20 on July 9. This followed the July 6 subcommittee approval of the draft bill.
The subcommittee prepared a press statement and summary for the July 6 markup before releasing additional details in the report accompanying the bill in advance of full committee consideration.
The bill includes $12.5 billion in emergency spending to cover increasing costs of health care and the new VA Community Care Network. “We have finally achieved consensus with the Senate that the cost of VA health care is growing exponentially and cannot remain within the budget caps,” said Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).
Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-Texas) shared her concern over the emergency spending: “Now is not the time to undo a bipartisan bicameral agreement that is less than a year old. We all agree that veterans' health care is a top priority. However, designating funding as emergency is wrong at a time of record debt and deficits.”
The additional health care funding, combined with tight budget caps, was a stumbling block to initiating the drafting of the FY 2021 spending bills [see Washington Highlights, May 22].
For specific accounts, the FY 2021 MilCon-VA bill includes an additional $1.4 billion for Medical Community Care on top of $17.1 billion provided as advanced appropriations in the FY 2020 spending bill, for a total of $18.5 billion for FY 2021 — a $3.3 billion (20%) increase over FY 2020. The bill also includes FY 2022 advanced appropriations of $20.1 billion for Medical Community Care.
For Medical Services, the FY 2021 MilCon-VA bill includes an additional $497 million on top of $56.1 billion provided as advanced appropriations in the FY 2020 spending bill, for a total of $56.6 billion for FY 2021 — a $5.2 billion (10%) increase over FY 2020. The bill also includes FY 2022 advanced appropriations of $58.9 billion for Medical Services.
The bill also includes $840 million for the VA’s Medical and Prosthetic Research program, a $40 million (5%) increase over FY 2020. During markup, both Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz and full committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) highlighted the investment in groundbreaking medical research. The Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA), a coalition of nearly 100 organizations organized by the AAMC, recommends $860 million for the VA research program in FY 2021.
The bill also contains language to restrict the use of dogs in research within the VA research program. The AAMC signed on to a June 2019 community letter in opposition to similar language in the FY 2020 MilCon-VA spending bill [see Washington Highlights, June 28, 2019].