House panel boosts veterans spending

With no broader budget deal in sight, a key House panel responsible for implementing sweeping cuts to agency budgets moved Wednesday to exempt veterans and largely protect spending on border safety and other homeland security programs in the coming year.

The strategy by the pragmatic House Appropriations Committee is to begin advancing a handful of its 12 yearly spending bills even as Republicans controlling the House and President Barack Obama are at an impasse on how much to lay out on the government’s day-to-day operations. Sweeping across-the-board spending cuts are taking hold for the ongoing 2013 budget year, pinching both the Pentagon and domestic Cabinet departments.

At issue in Wednesday’s legislation is how to allocate cuts for the 2014 budget year beginning Oct. 1. House Republicans have approved a broader budget plan to restore cuts to the Pentagon while making cuts to domestic agencies even deeper. Democrats strongly oppose the move saying it would mean harsh curbs on medical research, science programs, law enforcement agencies and a slew of other programs. They want to replace the cuts, known as sequestration, in their entirety.

Wednesday’s developments strike a compromise. The Appropriations subcommittee that oversees veterans and military construction projects approved a bill to boost funding for veterans’ medical care and claims processing. Their action stuck close to Obama’s requests.

“This will be a tough budget year, and almost every area of government will be affected by the austere funding levels caused by sequestration,” said Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. “However, this legislation prioritizes spending to protect critical programs, including infrastructure for our troops, programs for our military families and the quality care our nation’s veterans deserve.”

Top Appropriations Committee Democrat Nita Lowey of New York endorsed the measure but predicted that only a handful of the 12 annual spending bills will advance while others are held in limbo, starved of money and awaiting a broader budget pact this fall.

Rogers also announced increases to homeland security programs like the Border Patrol in legislation to be approved by an Appropriations subcommittee on Thursday.

But maintaining funding for veterans and homeland security programs means that there will be even less money available for other domestic programs.