Chairman Hal Rogers Floor Statement in Support of H.R. 2216, the Fiscal Year 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill
Jun 4, 2013 -
Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of H.R. 2216, the Fiscal Year 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.
This is the first of 12 Appropriations bills I hope to bring to the floor under regular order. Although we received the President’s budget nearly 2 months late, I have every intention of drafting and considering all 12 appropriations measures in a timely fashion and in the traditional open process that allows all members to have their say in how taxpayer dollars should be spent.
As we kick off the Appropriations process on the House floor today, we face some of the most challenging circumstances in recent memory – a tardy Presidential budget, a divided Congress, the ham-handed cuts of sequestration, and historically low funding levels.
Given our tight budget, my Committee has and will continue to prioritize funding in areas of the highest national need – our security and enforcement of law. However, virtually all areas of the government WILL face cuts this year – including critical national security programs.
Clearly, this is an austere budget year – our topline number is severely low and billions apart from the Senate’s number. It is my sincere hope that there will very soon be a budget compromise that will undo the harmful sequestration law, and give us a single, common, topline allocation with the Senate.
In spite of all this, I want to reiterate my commitment to regular order. This is not a pie-in-the-sky endeavor – it’s what our founding fathers wanted. Under regular order, each of my esteemed colleagues will have their chance to put their stamp on this bill – to have their voices heard and represented on these must-pass bills.
We have a lot of work to do in a limited amount of time, so let’s get down to it.
Today, we are considering the Military Construction and VA bill – a truly bipartisan effort that this entire body can and should support.
This bill funds critical Department of Defense infrastructure that gives our service men and women the quality of life they deserve – including hospitals, schools, and family housing. This bill also includes $63.1 billion to provide our veterans with the benefits and care they have earned for their service.
Notably, we support medical treatment for 6.5 million veterans, including funding for traumatic brain injury treatment, suicide prevention, and important mental health care programs.
This bill also addresses two of the VA’s biggest problems: the disgraceful disability claims backlog, and the lack of a seamless, coordinated Department of Defense-Veterans electronic health record system. The bill includes funding that will jumpstart efforts to clean up the backlog, and force DoD and VA to get moving on a system that should have been in place years ago.
But this is not the easiest of budget times. While most of the funding in this bill is not subject to sequestration, we could not in good conscious let a single dollar in this bill go to waste. Every nickel and dime appropriated was carefully assessed to ensure these funds are used properly, efficiently, and responsibly.
We took the difficult but responsible step to reduce military construction funding to offset the increases in VA spending – but we made these reductions without affecting military readiness or effectiveness.
To make sure that our careful work in this bill does not go to waste, we’ve implemented strict oversight protocols. And we’ve included certain benchmarks to help guarantee that disability claims aren’t piling up again, and that we aren’t throwing away precious taxpayer dollars as we try to get this DOD-VA electronic health record up and running.
Before I conclude, I’d like to thank the Chairman of the MilCon Subcommittee, John Culberson, for his time and attention to this bill, as well as the Ranking Member, Mr. Bishop. They make a great team, and this bipartisan teamwork shows in this legislation. The entire subcommittee made every effort to craft a bill that adequately cares for our servicemen and women, their families, and our veterans.
We would not be here today without the hard-working staff of this Subcommittee. Considering that we’ve only had the President’s budget for less than a month, that we have this thorough bill before us today is a real testament to their hard work and dedication. I thank them for the many hours they have put in over the last few months.
Mr. Chairman, I hope that we can get the Appropriations season off on the right foot, and pass this legislation today. I believe this is a bill that Members on both sides of the aisle can support whole-heartedly – to keep our military in fighting form and give our veterans the benefits they have so sincerely earned. I urge my colleagues to approve this bill.
(As Prepared For Delivery)