President Bush on Saturday in his weekly radio address asked congressional Democrats to send him the fiscal year 2008 Military Construction-Veterans Affairs appropriations bill (HR 2642) in honor of Veterans Day, the AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Riechmann, AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/11).
The legislation includes $64.7 billion in discretionary spending. Bush has said that he would sign the bill, although the legislation exceeds his request for discretionary spending by $3.4 billion (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 11/8).
In his radio address, Bush said, "Unfortunately, congressional leaders let the fiscal year end without passing this bill they know our veterans need," adding, "So I urged Congress to pass this bill by Veterans Day -- and they still have failed to send me this vital legislation" (Holzer, The Hill, 11/10). According to the AP/Journal-Constitution, Congress has never sent Bush the Military Construction-VA bill by Veterans Day (AP/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/12).
CR Would Increase Funds for VA
In other budget news, the continuing resolution approved by Congress last week as part of the $450 billion FY 2008 Defense appropriations bill (HR 3222) assumes that the VA budget would increase by $2.9 billion from FY 2007, an assumption that would allow VA to spend at higher levels than other Cabinet departments and federal agencies under the CR, CQ Today reports (CQ Today, 11/9).
Bush has said that he would sign the legislation, which Congress approved last week. The CR would fund most Cabinet departments and federal agencies at current levels until Dec. 14. FY 2008 began on Oct. 1, and Cabinet departments and federal agencies since that time have operated on a CR scheduled to expire on Nov. 16 (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 11/9).
According to CQ Today, by "including the extra funds, Democrats hope they can blunt the barrage of criticism" for their delay in final approval of the Military Construction-VA bill (CQ Today, 11/9).
In related news, House and Senate conferees will not include a provision that would establish a new system for disability benefits for veterans in the FY 2008 defense authorization bill (HR 1585), although the legislation likely will include a number of other "wounded warrior" provisions. Conferees could complete a conference report on the bill this week (Yoest, CQ Today, 11/9).
The "Democratic scheme" to send Bush a budget package that included the Labor-HHS-Education and Military Construction-VA bills to avoid a presidential veto "seemed a clever strategy, but it was based on presumption of Republican ignorance and cowardice," columnist Robert Novak writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. The debate over the package led to a "confusing week on Capitol Hill," during which "lawmakers engaged in games that were difficult for insiders to understand and incomprehensible to ordinary voters," he writes.
Novak adds that to date no appropriations bills have "reached the president's desk" because "Bush has threatened to veto at least 10 of them," such as the "earmark-heavy" Labor-HHS-Education bill (Novak, Washington Post, 11/12).