The White House Office of Management and Budget ended months of political and media conjecture Monday when officials announced that programs under the Department of Veterans Affairs, including healthcare, would not be subject to the $500 billion tranche of budget cuts scheduled to hit the Defense Department if sequestration takes effect.
“In response to a query from the GAO, OMB issued a letter today drawing the legal conclusion that all programs administered by the VA, including Veterans’ Medical Care, are exempt from sequestration,” an OMB official told Human Events in an email.
The letter drew no conclusions about the agency’s administrative expenses.
Officials added that the administration is nonetheless not planning for a sequester and urging congress to take action to avoid such a measure.
For House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), that statement should have been made last July, when lawmakers agreed on the sequestration mechanism.
In the absence of a forthright conclusion on the matter, Miller introduced a bill in February exempting the department responsible for providing healthcare to military veterans from the deep budget cuts, making it clear that he blamed the Obama administration for its lack of leadership on the matter.
“This is not the group of Americans with whom we need to allow political factors to cloud our judgment between what is right, and what is wrong,” he wrote in a March editorial for Military.com.
“America’s veterans, the men and women who have risked life and limb to defend our liberty, deserve to know the potential ramifications of the VA budget.”
Miller’s response to the OMB decision Monday was equally scathing.
“Unfortunately, this move demonstrates the administration’s penchant for political brinksmanship even when it concerns those who have served this nation with honor,” he said. “Months ago, GAO provided the (House Veterans Affairs Committee) in a matter of days, the same analysis that OMB has now provided to GAO. Yet the administration would not act and held America’s veterans hostage over a simple legal clarification.”
Miller added that he would continue to support his bill, H.R. 3895, on the chance that the VA would be left open to cuts in “other potential sequester questions” referenced in the OMB letter to GAO officials.
The OMB still has a number of decisions to make about how sequestration cuts will be taken in the Defense Department and how much flexibility military leaders will have in applying the budget axe.
But a spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee told Human Events Monday that saving VA programs from sequestration would not negatively impact DoD programs because of the way the sequestration provision is written. To that end, the spokesman said, HASC chair Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) supported the move to exempt VA programs.