As I travel throughout my south-central Michigan district, I have learned over the past few months in town hall meetings, small group gatherings and coffee hours I have hosted that virtually all Americans, Republican and Democrat, believe we owe a great debt of gratitude to those who have worn the uniform in service to our country.
One of the most important jobs of Congress is providing medical care and ensuring the men and women of our Armed Forces are taken care of and treated with the respect they deserve when they return home from defending the freedoms we enjoy.
Earlier this year, both the House and Senate passed the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act, one of the largest spending increases in the 77 year history of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to ensure the health and well-being of our veterans.
This landmark legislation, supported by the nation’s largest service organizations like the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, greatly improves veterans care and brings veterans facilities into the 21st century.
This bill increases the capacity of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense to meet mental illness treatment needs of veterans and active duty personnel. It would fund new injury centers in Iraq and Afghanistan and enable new outreach program for veterans and their families.
Another key element is improved housing and greater benefits for spouses and children of veterans.
Congress chose to make such a large and necessary investment in our veterans because we need to make sure those who served us receive medical care that is thorough, meets world-class standards and is patient-centered.
Today, this pressing legislation sits, waiting for a conference committee to iron out the minor differences between the House and Senate versions. Congress chose to make such a large and necessary investment in our veterans because we need to make sure those who served us receive medical care that is thorough, meets world-class standards and is patient-centered.
Current funding runs out October 1st of this year, and with only minute differences between the House and Senate versions, it is imperative we pass this bill and give those who care for our veterans the needed resources for the next year in a predictable allocation.
However, Democratic leadership in both chambers of this Congress appears willing to make the veterans appropriations bill part of political gamesmanship in Washington. They are holding the veterans funding bill hostage, largely because the Democratic leadership is more concerned with defending their budget busting spending priorities than ensuring our nation’s veterans are taken care of.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time the Democrats have played games with funding our brave men and women. Earlier this year, Congress needed to pass an emergency supplemental to supply the necessary resources to our soldiers in the field, a piece of legislation that had to pass to keep our soldiers equipped.
Instead of passing this bill, the Democratic majority gave American people a pork-filled smorgasbord containing millions of dollars for tropical fish, peanut storage and spinach payouts, along with billions of other “emergency objectives.”
Conservatives stood united and the liberal leadership in Congress finally stood down, and we were able to pass a clean emergency supplemental without pork or a surrender clause.
Now, it appears Democrats may withhold sending this bi-partisan veterans funding bill to the President’s desk in an effort to ensure greater spending levels for their pet projects. There is a chance Democrats will hold off on final passage of this legislation so they can include it into a massive, budget-busting spending bill at the end of the year.
Let me be very clear: The funding of veterans should not be a political issue. Congress should swiftly pass this important legislation, and Republicans and Democrats should jointly celebrate when it becomes law.
Our nation’s veterans are not tools for political bargaining and this bill is a top priority.
President Ronald Reagan once said, “None among us deserve more respect than the millions of patriotic men and women who have worn our nation’s uniform to preserve America’s freedom and world peace.”
We can only hope Speaker Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership in Congress agree.