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Ranking Member Bost Delivers Opening Remarks at Committee Hearing to Discuss VA’s FY 2023 Budget Request

Today, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of the Committee’s hearing to assess the Biden Administration’s fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA):

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And, welcome Secretary McDonough and our V.S.O. witnesses.

I would like the witnesses to know I will have to leave the hearing for a short time, toward the end, to participate in a Transportation and Infrastructure Committee markup.

I appreciate you understanding.

Congress has always prioritized V.A. funding.

We have approved three historic budget increases in a row.

V.A.’s fiscal year 2023 request is like nothing we have ever seen before.

It totals 301 billion dollars.

That’s 30 billion dollars more than this year.

It includes the largest discretionary increase ever.

That’s 22 billion dollars, or nearly 19 percent.

All that is on top of nearly 20 billion dollars from the CARES Act, and 17 billion dollars from the American Rescue Plan.

I have many questions about the request.

The budget materials do not seem to support this level of spending.

For example, V.A.’s health care projection model supports a 13 percent increase.

But the request is for 19 percent.

We have heard a lot about a rebound in health care demand from the pandemic.

V.A.’s budget materials say the impact is 1.3 billion dollars this year, and 5.6 billion dollars next year.

But, the requested increase is much larger than that.

More importantly, the American Rescue Plan was supposed to pay for those increases.

It just doesn’t add up.

I am even more concerned about what the budget fails to cover.

As large as it is, it fails to tackle some of the most important issues V.A. is facing.

The budget says V.A. facilities need as much as 88 billion dollars of investment over the next 10 years.

Yet, it only increases funding for construction and major maintenance by 1 billion dollars, to a total of 5.5 billion.

The Administration seems to be waiting for Build Back Better to tackle this problem.

We could have started addressing it already.

There is no excuse to wait.

The ongoing Asset and Infrastructure Review (AIR) process will help identify where to invest in new buildings.

In the meantime, we should prioritize maintenance.

V.A.’s budget request also does not include funding, Mr. Secretary, for your decision this week to extend presumptive benefits for nine rare cancers.

It only funds presumptive benefits for the three conditions announced last August.

Mr. Secretary, I applaud your efforts to use the authority you already have to determine presumptive conditions.

That said, the budget cannot ignore the associated costs.

Additionally, the budget does not even consider the work that Congress and V.A. have been doing to expand health care and benefits to veterans suffering from toxic exposure.

C.B.O. estimates the PACT Act – which the Administration is strongly supporting – will cost more than 325 billion dollars.

But, the budget is also silent on those costs and the operational impact of implementing the legislation.

I have been concerned about that for a long time.

However, the budget does not account for any of this, in 2023 or 2024.

Finally, V.A. and the White House are proposing to make V.A. Medical Care its own budget category.

That means taking it out of the non-defense discretionary mix.

Nothing like this has ever happened before.

The overall V.A. budget is on track to reach a half-trillion dollars in five years.

Agreeing to this proposal would mean putting discretionary spending on autopilot.

If Congress did that, we would be ignoring our responsibility to determine priorities.

I am not comfortable with that.

It is unnecessary, and it would undermine accountability.

Budgets are about more than numbers and dollars.

Budgets have to reflect actual needs and improve actual veterans’ lives.

We have an obligation to make sure veterans always receive the high-quality health care and benefits they deserve.

I take my responsibility seriously, to study V.A.’s budget justification and determine if it would do that.

At the end of the day, that will always be my standard.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
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