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Bost Opening Remarks at Markup of Democrats’ $17 Billion VA Budget Reconciliation Proposal

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Washington, February 11, 2021 | Samantha Gonzalez | comments
Today, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, at the start of the Committee’s consideration of the Biden Administration’s proposal to provide VA with $17 billion through the rushed budget reconciliation process:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

As I said just a moment ago when we were organizing, I am eager to roll up my sleeves and get to work.
Veterans, caregivers, families, and survivors are counting on us.

I hear from them every day.

But this markup is reckless and irresponsible.

This is the very first time our Committee has met this Congress.

We have been organized for all of five minutes.

Many Members are new.

We have not held a single hearing.

We have not heard from a single witness.

And yet, the Biden Administration and the Democrat Majorities in Congress are rushing through a vote to spend $1.9 trillion.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) would get $17 billion of that, which is what our Committee will be voting on today.

It is a mystery to me how that number was determined.

VA is the second largest bureaucracy in the federal government.

It has a sacred mission and it received record high levels of funding last year to carry it out.

That includes the biggest base budget VA has ever had - $243.3 billion.

It also includes $19.6 billion from the CARES Act for COVID-relief.

At the end of last week, $10.9 billion of that CARES Act money was left unspent.
It hasn’t been touched.

VA has told us repeatedly over the last year that the Department did not need additional funding.

The fact that most of VA’s CARES Act money is leftover bears that out.

VA’s tune only changed on that after the Biden Administration decided to drop the Department an additional $17 billion out of thin air.

We do not know how they came up with that amount.

We do not know why it is needed.

We do not know what it will be used for.

We do not know how veterans will be better off for it.

We have asked those questions.

Senator Moran, the Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and I wrote to VA last Thursday asking them.

I wrote to Chairman Takano last Friday asking for a hearing so we could ask those questions to VA witnesses.

I wanted that hearing to be held publicly so that veterans and taxpayers could hear VA’s answers too.

Mr. Chairman, you never responded to my letter.

VA’s response was to give our staff a short briefing and one sheet of figures in broad funding categories.

That is nowhere near the justification that Members of Congress should insist on before giving almost twenty billion dollars to any cause.

Our constituents did not send us here to give only a passing glance as billions of their hard-earned dollars go out the door.

This is no way to conduct the people’s business.

It is no way to conduct veterans’ business.

COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our country.

Veterans have not been immune to its effects.

They need our help.

They deserve our help.

And we worked together last year to give them our help.

We can do that again now.

We should do that again now.

But this is not the way to do it.

Members have had this text for less than 48 hours.

It has changed three different times since then.

It is written like a blank check.

It contains few, if any, details about how this money will be used.

That leaves it ripe for waste, fraud, and abuse.

Based on what little we do know, it appears that most of this money is meant for anticipated needs in fiscal year 2022 or even 2023.

VA’s briefing to Committee staff last Friday made it clear that the $10.9 billion in CARES Act funding that is leftover is expected to last through the end of this fiscal year.

Clearly, this money is not needed urgently if it won’t be used for at least seven months, if not more.

Clearly, we have time to do our due diligence.

Some of our colleagues are already starting to do that.

Next Friday the Military-Construction -VA Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee is holding a hearing on VA’s response to COVID-19.

Dr. Richard Stone, the Executive in Charge of the Veterans Health Administration, will be testifying.

Dr. Stone has been at the helm of the VA healthcare system throughout the pandemic.

If anyone can tell us if VA needs more money for COVID-relief, it is Dr. Stone.

Mr. Chairman, I believe that we should postpone these proceedings until after his testimony before the Appropriations Committee next week.

That is the right call under these circumstances.

In lieu of that, my Republican colleagues and I have offered several amendments to this proposal.

Our amendments address what should be mutual, bipartisan priorities:

• Getting veterans vaccinated;

• Getting veterans back to work;

• Helping veterans recover physically, mentally, and financially from the pandemic; and

• Holding VA accountable for making sure taxpayer dollars are well spent.

I hope our amendments are given their due consideration.

I look forward to discussing them.

I and urge all Members to support them.

With that, I yield back.

To watch Ranking Member Bost’s opening remarks and the Full Committee Markup, click here.
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