WASHINGTON (AP) — The House on Wednesday took the first step in a bipartisan drive to fix its broken process for handling the $1 trillion provided to federal agencies each year for their day-to-day operations.
A sweeping 416-1 vote passed a bipartisan $71 billion measure funding the Veterans Affairs Department and construction projects on military bases. The sole vote in opposition came from Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho.
The appropriations process failed spectacularly last year. In March, six months late, lawmakers passed an omnibus spending bill that left many federal agencies on autopilot and then watched as automatic, across-the-board spending cuts slammed the Pentagon and domestic agencies alike.
Subsequent consideration of the round of fiscal 2014 bills collapsed as the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a common spending limit to govern the appropriations process. The Senate didn’t pass a single bill, and House action cratered after spending bills with severe cuts didn’t have the votes to pass. An unrelated fight over money to implement the Affordable Care Act sparked a partial government shutdown.
A subsequent take-it-or-leave-it vote in January on a massive, catchall appropriations bill was actually regarded as progress, but now those atop the House and Senate Appropriations committees want to advance the bills the old-fashioned way with weeks and weeks of debate and amendment, late nights and official House-Senate conference meetings.
Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., the House Appropriations Committee chairman, is taking a time-tested, conservative approach, scheduling noncontroversial bills like the VA measure first. The bill seeks to ease a backlog in registering veterans for VA health benefits and tries to pressure the VA to fix flaws in upgrades to its electronic health records system, which isn’t fully interoperable with the Pentagon’s.
During debate on Wednesday, the House passed an amendment to provide an additional $1 million to the VA’s inspector general to conduct an investigation into allegations of a secret waiting list for VA medical care in Phoenix that could have contributed to the deaths of 40 veterans awaiting care.