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Public Statements

Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2011

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. I thank the Chair.

This amendment would increase the amount of funding for grants for construction of States veterans cemeteries by $7 million while reducing funding for grants for construction of minor projects by an equal amount.

The VA provides funding for State veterans cemeteries through the grants for construction of State veterans cemeteries program. All pending projects are evaluated by the VA and ranked in order of priority. This is not an earmark program. It is a competitive ranking process.

The current priority list shows that there are $121 million worth of projects where the State matching funds are already in place. More than half of these projects--totaling $70 million--are still awaiting Federal matching grants. Yet the appropriations bill we are considering today provides only $46 million for grants for construction of State veterans cemeteries.

The first priority for the State cemetery program is to provide funding for the expansion of existing cemeteries. The second priority is for the construction of new cemeteries according to geographical need. The third is for improvements to existing cemeteries. So what this means is that existing cemeteries which require improvements do not receive the necessary funding.

For example, my State of New Jersey is home to the BGWC Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery. This cemetery is the busiest State veterans cemetery in the Nation. On average, it has seven burials per day. For the past 2 years, the cemetery has had two important improvement projects with State grants in place, but there hasn't been sufficient funding for matching Federal grants.

The following States also have a State matching grant but have at least one unfunded project: Tennessee, Minnesota, Kentucky, Alabama, California, Idaho, South Dakota, Hawaii, Maryland, Montana, Virginia, Nevada and Maine.

To make matters worse, the State veterans cemetery grant program has been underfunded over the past several years, even though the number of World War II veterans that are needing interments is rapidly increasing. VA and VFW officials at both the State and national level agree that there is a need for an overall increase to the annual budget of the grants to State cemeteries program. In fact, it is one of their top priorities.

This bipartisan amendment would increase the amount for this program by $7 million. This amendment would simultaneously decrease by $7 million the amount for the minor projects. However, the construction of minor project account is already fully funded at a level that is $40 million above both the VA and the President's budget requests.

Last year, during consideration of the FY10 MILCON-VA appropriations bill, I introduced an almost identical amendment. The only difference was that the amount of increase/decrease was $4 million rather than $7 million. That amendment passed this House by voice vote.

With that, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. EDWARDS of Texas. Madam Chair, I rise to claim time in opposition to the amendment.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. EDWARDS of Texas. Madam Chair, I will salute the gentleman from New Jersey for focusing on the need to fund our State veterans cemeteries. I believe in those cemeteries. I think they're an important partnership between the Federal Government and our State governments. So I have absolutely no objection to his wanting to try to find additional funding for State cemeteries.

However, I will object and ask my colleagues to vote ``no'' on this amendment because of the way in which he pays for it. While not intended in any way, it just turns out the money that he would be taking out of the VA minor construction project would come out of these specific projects:

A domiciliary extended stay unit will not be replaced in Butler, Pennsylvania; a kidney dialysis unit expansion will not occur in Richmond, Virginia; an ambulatory surgery center will not be completed in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and an urgent care center will not be renovated at Castle Point, New York.

So you have an amendment that won't even guarantee that even one dime of this amendment's funding will go to State veterans cemeteries in New Jersey. In fact, the last list I saw the VA has put out officially has the New Jersey project significantly down the list. But regardless of that, I think it's just not right to take funding out of these much-needed health care construction projects.

I would like to yield to the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Altmire) for any time he would care to consume.

Mr. ALTMIRE. I thank the chairman.

Madam Chair, I rise in opposition to the Garrett amendment to the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill which would transfer $7 million in funding for the grants for construction, minor projects account into another unrelated account. This amendment would adversely affect veterans in my district by shifting funding away from priority construction projects, such as the domiciliary extended stay unit in Butler, Pennsylvania. That facility is a vital source of shelter and rehabilitation for homeless veterans in western Pennsylvania, and I will not allow its upkeep and improvement to be compromised by this type of unwise amendment.

Last-minute shifts in funding for parochial concerns take away from priority projects and plans that the VA has determined to be necessary for veterans' health and safety nationwide. I ask my colleagues to join me in strongly opposing the Garrett amendment to prevent harmful construction project cuts for the VA.

Mr. EDWARDS of Texas. I would like to now yield time to the gentleman from Virginia (Mr. Scott).

Mr. SCOTT of Virginia. Madam Chair, I too rise in opposition to the amendment.

As it has been said before, this would jeopardize the dialysis unit in the McGuire Hospital in Richmond. Although I appreciate the gentleman from New Jersey's intent, I do not believe that shortchanging important projects at the VA to improve and expand quality health care for our veterans is the appropriate way to achieve that goal. We have promised our veterans health care and decreases in what is called the minor projects account will actually jeopardize important projects all over the country, including one in Richmond, Virginia.

I urge my colleagues to reject the amendment. Hopefully we can work out some other pay-for. But we do not want it taken out of the projects in Richmond, Virginia; Pennsylvania; and other projects around the country.

Mr. EDWARDS of Texas. I now yield to the gentleman from New York.

Mr. HALL of New York. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I rise in opposition to the amendment, although I do support the underlying intent; but not, however, the pay-for.

One project that would be affected by this cutback is the renovation of the urgent care center at Castle Point, New York, a VA hospital that was built in 1926. It's the oldest VA hospital in the country and has never undergone a major renovation. The project would dramatically increase urgent care capacity at Castle Point and make the facility more accommodating for female veterans who are increasingly a large part of our force.

I ask that before you vote on this measure, please take a moment to consider the unintended consequences and the negative consequences, not just in the Hudson Valley but across the country.

Mr. EDWARDS of Texas. Madam Chair, do I have any time remaining?

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman has 30 seconds remaining.

Mr. EDWARDS of Texas. Let me just conclude by saying no one objects to the gentleman's goal. We would be glad to try to work in good faith to see if we can find another pay-for to improve funding for our veterans cemeteries. But I will strongly object and ask my colleagues to vote ``no'' on this amendment because of the damage done to veterans at these facilities that need the care that they would otherwise not get if this amendment is passed into law.

I yield back the balance of my time.

Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. Madam Chair, I would just remind the gentleman that the money you appropriated is already $40 million over what the President asked for and also what the VA asked for.

I yield 1 minute to the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Lance).

Mr. LANCE. Madam Chair, I rise in support of Congressman Garrett's amendment also sponsored in a bipartisan capacity by Congressman Adler on the other side of the aisle and by me. This is bipartisan in nature, and, of course, we believe that across the country, veterans and their families
are dealing with the hardships of overcrowded and unkempt State cemeteries.

For example, in New Jersey there is only one State veterans cemetery that is currently available for new burials--the Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown, in southern New Jersey, not in my district and not in Congressman Garrett's district, but this is bipartisan in nature on our side of the aisle; and certainly we think that this amendment will help fund these projects and reduce existing backlogs in the State veterans cemetery grant program.

I certainly concur with Congressman Garrett's point of view that the funding is already over what has been requested by the administration and we believe strongly that this is in the best interest of the United States.

Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. May I inquire of the time remaining.

The Acting CHAIR. The gentleman from New Jersey has 1 minute remaining.

Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. In conclusion, I will end where I started, and that is to say, there is a need for the cemeteries not just in the state of New Jersey but across the country as well. In a bipartisan manner we passed this bill with the support presumably from the chairman last year in a similar manner as we are doing this year. As was stated already, the amount of money that is already appropriated is $40 million more than not only what the White House wants but also what the VA wants.

I do find it curious that the chairman is able to come to the floor and cite specifically what programs would be cut when our staff tried diligently through the committee to ask them to identify exactly which ones would be cut and we could never get an answer from them as to what would be cut whatsoever with regard to priorities. Now the chair comes and says, well, this program, this program, and this program will be cut.

How can anybody say it's being cut when we're already spending $40 million more than what the VA and the administration is asking for?

This is a duty that we owe to our veterans, and we should do it in a proper manner, and we should do it now. We should not be pointing fingers saying that we want a cut from this or a cut from that. We have set out the program this year as we have done in the past. And we should meet that moral obligation.

The Acting CHAIR. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Garrett).

The question was taken; and the Acting Chair announced that the noes appeared to have it.

Mr. GARRETT of New Jersey. Madam Chair, I demand a recorded vote.

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