As delivered during today's hearing:
Our hearing today covers two items. The I will discuss come out of the Veterans Affairs Committee. In short, H.R. 1836 extends GI Bill education benefits to Guard and Reserve troops in certain circumstances while H.R. 4673 requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to auto-enroll veterans in VA healthcare upon separation from the Department of Defense.
While I believe the intentions behind both of these bills are good, I understand that Republicans on the Veterans Affairs Committee have some concerns, particularly over the impact of both bills, which is largely unknown. I look forward to hearing Ranking Member Bost’s views during our discussion today.
Before I yield back, I would like to take a moment to remind the committee of a pressing matter that is not before us today: the stalled process for finishing a final FY 2022 spending bill. It has been almost a month since we last met, and yet today Congress is no closer to meeting the deadline of finishing this spending package prior to the February 18 deadline.
Let me make it clear that I have no criticism of my fellow appropriators on both sides of the aisle and certainly our chairwoman, the distinguished lady from Connecticut, Ms. DeLauro. She's worked really hard trying to push toward an agreement. I chatted with her actually earlier this morning and before the break, and nobody's more dedicated.
And again, while I certainly wasn't happy with what was in all of the appropriations bills that we passed, I do point out for the record that the House did pass all 12 bills out of committee, nine of them across the floor. So the problem has not been in our chamber. And frankly, our chairwoman has pushed hard actually to have shorter deadlines to try and encourage negotiation and push forward toward a deal. And I know she'll continue to do that.
But I challenge honestly the Administration and the leadership of both parties. My friends in the Majority currently control both houses of Congress and the presidency, and that puts the responsibility to govern squarely on their shoulders. But rather than focusing on the key governance responsibility of funding the government and keeping it open, the Majority is instead chasing other partisan priorities that stand little chance of becoming law.
Although it sometimes seems these priorities change on a day-to-day basis, as of today my friends are still seeking a renewal of their reconciliation bill – a spending boondoggle that appears to have been consigned to history due to the opposition of a key Democratic senator – a federal government takeover of the voting process and even the erosion of the filibuster, a tool that Democrats championed and defended in the very recent past.
Unfortunately, in constantly running between one shiny object and the next, the Majority is abrogating its critical responsibilities.
Mr. Chairman, at the end of the day, the final appropriations deal can only come about when there is bipartisan and bicameral agreement. The Majority must enter into real negotiations with Republicans. That will require a give-and-take and will necessitate changes from the Majority’s initial stance. Again, I add that I know my friend and distinguished colleague and chairwoman DeLauro is up to that task because I've dealt with her myself before in the past. So I don't think appropriators are the problem, but I do think that leadership has to focus on this and the Administration has to do it. Otherwise, we are going to slide toward a yearlong CR in my view.
The Hyde Amendment and other bipartisan pro-life protections that have been included in appropriations bills for decades honestly must be restored, and indeed, no deal is possible without that. There is an overwhelming bipartisan support for an increase in defense spending to correspond to this year’s bipartisan NDAA, or perhaps some other figure given the inflation that we're experiencing right now. And in countless other areas, there will have to be some give and take.
But none of that is possible until the Majority puts its focus where it belongs. We now have six weeks until the current CR runs out. I hope friends in the Majority will put this time to good use. I know they'll find willing partners in the serious negotiation on our side of the aisle, but I think it's time that that begin.