White House Continues Blasting Congressional GOP Over Potential Veterans Benefit Cuts
More than 600,000 veterans in a handful of high-profile congressional battleground districts could be hurt by potential cuts to government programs if the House debt limit bill becomes law, according to the White House.
“If House Republicans have buyers’ remorse about the agonizing cuts they just endorsed for those that sacrificed for our freedom and security, the good news is there’s an obvious solution: stop holding our economy hostage and cleanly vote against causing a recession,” said Andrew Bates, a White House deputy press secretary, in a memo obtained by HuffPost on Saturday.
In the memo, the White House said that a total of 618,960 veterans live in 18 GOP-controlled House districts, or an average of about 34,387 each. While the memo does not explicitly note this, President Joe Biden won all 18 districts in the 2020 election. These districts are seen as the front line in efforts to decide who will control the chamber after 2024.
The memo shows the White House’s determination to push the issue of cuts to veterans’ benefits as it works to hang House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s debt reduction plan around the necks of the GOP, even as Republicans attempt to argue the attacks are unfair.
The districts include those represented by Reps. Don Bacon of Nebraska, George Santos of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and David Schweikert of Arizona. Of the 18 districts, 11 are in either New York or California, reinforcing the central role that the two blue states will play in the battle for control of the House.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned that the U.S. faces the prospect of being unable to pay its bills as early June. Republicans have said they want spending cuts and as the price to increase the debt ceiling, passing a $4.8 trillion spending reduction and debt hike bill in April on a mostly party-line vote.
But the vast majority of those cuts would come from the annual funding that Congress gives to the Pentagon, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, has said lawmakers can provide for defense, veterans and border security while cutting overall annual spending.
The bill doesn’t specify which departments would take cuts, nor does it include language protecting any agency, including the Defense Department or the Veterans Affairs Department. Because about half of that annual pool of money usually goes to defense, the White House calculates that everything else, including veterans programs, would suffer a 22% cut next year if defense were protected from any reductions.
“The Default on America Act would force extremely painful consequences on the Americans who have risked everything to keep us safe and protect our freedoms,” Bates wrote, jokingly summing up the GOP message thusly: “I will singlehandedly kill millions of jobs and send retirement accounts into a tailspin unless you let me gut the VA.”
Republicans have decried the estimates as fearmongering.
Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the chair of the House Appropriations Committee that doles out annual spending, said in April, “We will provide for our national defense, take care of veterans, and secure our border – all while reducing overall spending.”
Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said Democrats are engaging in “dangerous rhetoric.”
“Simply put, they are playing politics with our veterans,” Bost said. “Veterans are not political pawns to advance a political agenda.”
Simply put, they are playing politics with our veterans. Veterans are not political pawns to advance a political agenda.Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee
The heat over the potential cuts illustrates the political potency of the veterans issue. With only a five-seat Republican margin, Democrats are looking to retake control of the House after performing much better than expected in 2022.
The memo comes ahead of a high-profile meeting slated for Tuesday between Biden and the party leaders in each chamber of Congress. With the number of days that lawmakers will be in Washington before June dwindling, each side is hoping the other blinks, with some reason for optimism.
Axios reported Saturday that moderate House Republicans are “fretting” about being able to push through a compromise bill once the initial bargaining stage is over. And NBC News reported Friday that the White House is mulling offering a short-term debt limit extension to ease the time pressure and minimize the economic danger of default jitters in financial markets.