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Hearing of House Committee on the Budget: The President's Budget for Fiscal Year 2006

Location: Washington, DC


February 8, 2005


Mr. Garrett. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate your work on the budget. I guess it is surmountable. A couple of quick points and the last one--first one has already been touched a little bit and that is with regard to the veterans. You pointed out it was a 50 percent increase in veterans spending increase in the last 4, 5 years. It was about a 15 percent increase in spending just over the prior year. But I do hear that charge from the critics and the media already that we are cutting spending for veterans. So the short answer to this when I go back to speak to veterans groups is to the allegation of cutting spending, the answer is, we are not cutting spending, is that correct?

Mr. Bolten. That is correct. In fact, there have been very substantial increases over the course of this administration in spending on veterans' health care.

Mr. Garrett. The short answer is as far--and you have addressed one issue--is as far as the health care side of the equation, I believe we have also reduced the amount of time, the amount of waiting time for veterans who are waiting 6 months or longer for getting health care services over the last 5 years from--almost a 95 or 99 percent reduction; is that correct?

Mr. Bolten. I don't have the precise details off the top of my head, but one of the great accomplishments of Secretary Principi during his tenure in the Department of Veterans Affairs was to reduce that waiting time dramatically.

Mr. Garrett. I mean, I fundamentally feel that one of the chief responsibilities of the Congress and of the Federal Government is to first just protect and defend our borders and then to take care of those individuals who are doing the job for us now, and in the past as well, because we are not going to be able to get a fighting force in the future if we don't take care of those who have taken care of us in the past.

So I think it is fundamental. I think this is a thought that is shared from both sides of the aisle. I think the administration has stepped up to the plate on that, and so I am encouraged to hear we are going to do that in the future.

The second area, just a quick one, the President has spoken with regard to relief, tsunami relief in countries. Now, I have not had the ability to go through that entire sealed package up there to see how this should be taken care of.

My belief is this should be taken care of in offsets by whatever amount of money we are going to finally provide. Is that addressed in the budget, or will that be addressed through the supplementals?

Mr. Bolten. I will save you from going through the sealed package. The tsunami relief will be addressed in supplemental funding. It is something that is urgently upon us and I expect will be part of the package that the administration sends up in the next few days.

Mr. Garrett. Has the administration made any thoughts with regards to the offsets for that amount?

Mr. Bolten. It will be part of a roughly $81 million supplemental proposal, principally for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have not attempted to propose offsets for any part of that.

We, of course, happily would entertain any suggestions on offsets that ought to be taken, but we think our first priority is to get the needs met that are saving lives and saving communities out where they have been affected by the tsunami.

Mr. Garrett. Well, since I have a minute here, I will throw them out so you can entertain them when you go back, and that is that any money that we are going to be providing them should be a contribution from this generation and not to a future generation. So if we are going to be providing them over $350 million of assistance, which I think is an appropriate amount that we do, that this should be coming from today's citizens and not being borne on the backs of our children or future children, and, if that would be the case, simply adding to the deficit.

So a simple solution would be for each department to be spreading across the board evenly and each department can look within its own current fiscal budget to decide where they can shave that off their operating from waste, fraud, abuse, or otherwise. To each department, simply says that is what their contribution of the American government will be to them. So I would appreciate if you would consider that.

That is all. I yield back the remainder of my time.


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