A group of 56 House Republicans tore into Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough for his department’s assertions that the GOP’s debt ceiling increase and spending cuts bill would slash veterans’ benefits.
In a Thursday letter led by Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.), a Navy veteran from a military family, Republicans said the secretary’s claims are “dishonest and shameless.”
“The intent of the legislation is to set a topline number for the entire federal budget,” the group wrote in the letter shared with The Hill. They added that top Congressional leaders have “stated unequivocally that veterans will be protected, and the VA will be funded.”
“Many members of Congress are deeply troubled and personally offended that the Biden Administration continues to use these dishonest talking points to create panic and fear in our veteran populations,” the letter said, accusing the department of playing “political games.”
Republicans’ Limit, Save, Grow Act paired a debt ceiling increase of $1.5 trillion with a swatch of policy priorities and spending reductions that the Congressional Budget Office estimated would reduce the federal deficit by about $4.8 trillion over a decade.
The GOP legislation was intended as a way to bring President Biden to the table to negotiate on spending cuts as a condition of raising the debt ceiling — and not necessarily as a final product. Biden has called on Congress to pass a “clean” increase without conditions.
Included in the GOP bill is a cap on discretionary spending in line with fiscal 2022 levels overall while allowing for 1 percent growth per year going forward.
The White House said that if Republicans do not cut defense spending, the fiscal 2022 level would amount to a 22 percent cut across other discretionary spending.
The VA in a press release last week warned the bill could amount to a loss of jobs across the VA, longer wait times, reduced telehealth access, and more. The VA secretary also said in a Senate hearing that the bill “may result in 30 million fewer outpatient visits” leading to fewer cancer screenings, mental health screenings, and substance abuse disorder treatments.
Those assertions enraged Republicans, who have repeatedly said that they will not cut veterans’ benefits.
The legislation does not make any specific cuts to veteran benefits or defense, but it also does not specifically protect them, though leaders have pledged to do so as they pass funding bills later this year. Actual funding levels will be set during the appropriations process.
A Washington Post fact check published Thursday said the White House “conjured up” numbers on cuts for veteran benefits, but it said that Republicans have not confronted the “politically perilous choices” they will have to make on spending cuts under their proposed plan in order to avoid impacting veterans.
The VA did not comment for this story.