Budget battle on Capitol Hill: Forecasting the winners and losers
Speaking Security Newsletter | Note n°206 | 18 May 2023
Yesterday, House Republicans advanced a draft of the FY2024 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs (VA), and Related Agencies funding bill (one of the 12 annual appropriations bills). The legislation would provide $152.5 billion for the VA — $15 billion more than Biden requested and $18 billion more than the amount enacted for FY2023.
Over the last month, Democrats primarily used the specter of a cut to the VA to attack the GOP’s broader budget plan, the Limit, Save, Grow Act,* which would cap overall FY2024 discretionary spending at FY2022 levels. (*See my summary of the bill in Jacobin).
Despite evidence that social spending was the GOP’s target — and that funding for the VA, the Pentagon, and border patrol would likely be exempt from cuts — Biden insisted Republicans wanted to “make cuts to VA health care.” Party leadership ran with this narrative as well, holding rallies, writing op-eds, and successfully mobilizing veterans advocacy groups. With yesterday’s markup of the FY2024 Milcon-VA bill, that line of attack is pretty much gone now.
The reason you don’t see many Democrats celebrating the VA’s budget boost — and why all Democrats on the Milcon-VA subcommittee voted against the bill — is because it effectively guarantees a significant cut to all the social programs not means tested by military participation. Why? Because a reduction in overall federal spending now looks likely to be paired with legislation to raise the debt limit, and Biden has already ruled out trimming Pentagon funding (which eats far more of the annual discretionary budget than the VA and every other cabinet department).
Advancing the Milcon-VA bill first shows that the “Republican strategy [is] to release the ‘easy bills’ first, funding them as best as they can…then leaving the rest of the bills with nothing,” according to Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). Echoing these remarks, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said it “plays right into Republicans’ larger plan to slash government funding,” calling the move “deceptive.”1
None of this is good news for ordinary Americans, who are in greater financial distress than they (we) were in 2020.
Since August 2020, the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey has asked, “In the last seven days, how difficult has it been for your household to pay for usual household expenses, including but not limited to food, rent or mortgage, car payments, medical expenses, student loans, and so on?”
I compared the average number who said it was either very or somewhat difficult to cover these typical expenses in Census surveys from Aug–Dec 2020 to those conducted Jan–Apr 2023. I found that an average of 80.8 million people were facing financial hardship in 2020, but that this year has been even more brutal: on average, 90.3 million Americans say they’re struggling to pay the bills.
^Alt text for screen readers: More Americans face financial hardship in 2023 than in 2020. This chart has two green columns representing the number of U.S. adults struggling to pay for usual expenses in 2020 versus 2023. The 2020 average was 80.8 million; the 2023 average is 90.3 million. Data comes from the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Surveys conducted from August to December 2020 and January to April 2023.
Even though the Democrats were pretty much asking for it, no?