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Accusations about cuts to veterans' programs adds new volatility to debt ceiling standoff

Senate unlikely to pass debt ceiling bill
House Speaker McCarthy's bill unlikely to advance in Senate 07:49

An already volatile and dangerous political standoff over raising the nation's debt ceiling has escalated, with the well-being of military veterans now thrust into the debate.   

House Republicans scheduled a late Sunday news conference and used the House GOP social media platform on Monday to rebut accusations that their plan to raise the debt ceiling would cut benefits or services to veterans. 

"Democrats are now lying to cover up what the Biden administration has done to hurt veterans and their pocketbooks over the last two years and it's despicable. Republicans on the other hand, have been serious about cutting wasteful government spending and controlling inflation," said Rep. Jennifer Kiggans, Republican of Virginia, one of several GOP members who served in the military and joined the Sunday call. 

The dispute over veterans' benefits stems from the mandate in the GOP debt ceiling bill to return to the levels of discretionary spending in the fiscal year 2022 budget. Democrats say that would result in a 22% cut across all programs, while Republicans say they would tailor the cuts through the appropriations process. The GOP plan to raise the debt limit does not explicitly cut veterans programs — but it does not exempt them from cuts either. 

"It is very important that this message get out so that veterans understand they are not losing any of their benefits. The VA is funded to the level that is required to provide all of their benefits," said Illinois Republican Mike Bost, who chairs the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has warned the Republican-led House that its debt limit bill, which passed on a party-line vote, would result in a 22% reduction in veterans services, millions fewer medical outpatient visits and longer wait times for disability claims and other benefits.   

The agency also said the legislation would negatively impact programs for veterans' housing vouchers, food security and mental health programs.   

The House-passed "Limit, Save Grow Act" debt ceiling legislation would raise the nation's borrowing limit by $1.5 trillion, but would also scale back federal spending. The measure also includes provisions to block Biden administration plans to forgive student loans and increase staffing at the Internal Revenue Service.

The bill potentially provides House Republicans with leverage to induce negotiations or a compromise plan for raising the debt ceiling with the Democratic-controlled Senate and the White House.   

But the growing criticism that the legislation would impact veterans risks weakening Republicans' negotiating ability. A perception that legislation could adversely impact military vets can be destabilizing to any proposal for new law.  

A group of approximately two dozen veterans groups have written to members of Congress urging any debt ceiling legislation be tailored to prevent reductions in veterans services. 

The letter said, "If enacted, the proposed legislation would dramatically reduce total federal discretionary spending and could endanger funding for VA and veterans' programs. Without specific language to explicitly protect VA from the impact of the proposed budget reductions, it would leave many veteran resources open to cuts, potentially undoing years of progress VA has made for those that have earned it."   

A spokeswoman for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America told CBS News the group expects to continue its advocacy and outreach about the legislation.  

On Monday, IAVA and multiple Democrats in Congress also blasted the legislation as a potential threat to burn-pit benefits that were approved by Congress in 2022.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, told CBS News, "This budget cut would result in 3 million fewer outpatient visits to VA medical facilities, 6,000 fewer employees at the Veterans Benefits Administration, increasing wait times for veterans' pensions and GI bill support, and the loss of housing vouchers for up to 50,000 homeless veterans." Swalwell said toxic exposure benefits approved in the 2022 PACT ACT would also be jeopardized.

The Senate Budget Committee, chaired by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, has announced a Thursday hearing to debate the House debt ceiling bill. Democrats are expected to use the hearing to blast the legislation. An early witness list includes an economist, an environmentalist and a clean energy expert. The committee said witnesses from veterans' groups will be announced. 

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