EDITORIAL: Despite Pelosi’s claims, VA spending increase isn’t a cut

There are few things that politicians love to do more than play games with words, especially when it comes to government spending.

Voting largely along party lines, the House recently passed its first appropriations bill for the next fiscal year. House Democrats, as well as Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald and some veterans groups, opposed the bill, claiming it wouldn’t cover veterans’ medical needs and construction projects that could give veterans better access to care. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the measure.

Prior to the vote, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., warned the bill would slash spending and gut veterans’ care.

“It turns a cold shoulder to our veterans and ignores our crumbling infrastructure,” she said April 30. “The MilCon — military construction veterans bill — that cuts $1.4 billion below President Obama’s budget … and then it cuts $690 million from veterans’ medical care alone, the equivalent of 70,000 fewer veterans receiving VA medical care in one year.”

On the surface, Rep. Pelosi’s words are convincing. After all our veterans have gone through, do we really want to let them down again? Of course not. The trouble is, the congresswoman’s words, as passionate as they may be, are totally inaccurate.

According to The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” column, Rep. Pelosi’s characterization of the funding in the House bill as a “cut” is just plain wrong. The Post points out that the president’s budget proposal is just that: a proposal. And while the House bill provides less than what the president and the VA proposed — and what many veterans groups wanted — the bill actually increased the VA’s total budget and discretionary spending over fiscal 2015 levels. It would be the VA’s biggest budget ever — total funding has grown by nearly 73 percent since 2009.

The Post says Rep. Pelosi’s claim that 70,000 fewer veterans would have care “is perplexing and clearly an exaggeration.” It says it is difficult to fathom how dialing back bonuses or pay raises would somehow lead to reduced care for veterans, and points out that the VA also has access to more than $14 billion in new funding — money that is separate from the funding in the House bill — that was allotted to help the agency deal with its well-publicized access-to-care issues and wait time scandal. That funding comes from the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, passed by Congress specifically to help veterans work around the dysfunctional bureaucracy.

Rep. Pelosi isn’t alone in misrepresenting spending, though. We hear this kind of nonsense all the time, at all levels of government: If a spending increase isn’t as big as a proposed spending increase, it’s a cut.

Cut out the cut cries. Reductions in proposed spending aren’t cuts. As The Washington Post points out, the VA has never had more money — and it’s still overrun by incompetence.

And Washington is still plagued by double-talk.

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