Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has unveiled a plan for cutting $400 billion in federal spending that includes freezing Veterans Affairs Department health care spending and cutting veterans' disability benefits. (Charlie Neibergall / The Associated Press)
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Tea party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., has unveiled a plan for cutting $400 billion in federal spending that includes freezing Veterans Affairs Department health care spending and cutting veterans' disability benefits.
Her proposed VA budget cuts would account for $4.5 billion of the savings included in the plan, posted http://bachmann.house.gov/">on her official House of Representatives website.
Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, said cutting veterans' health care spending is an ill-advised move at a time when the number of veterans continues to grow as troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan. Sullivan said he finds it difficult to see how VA could freeze health care costs without hurting veterans.
"It is really astonishing to see this," he said.
In a statement, Bachmann said her plan is intended for discussion purposes as an example of ways to cut federal spending to make it unnecessary to increase the current $14.3 trillion limit on the amount the U.S. government can borrow.
The debt ceiling will be reached sometime in March, according to economic forecasts, but many lawmakers — especially members of the tea party movement — have been talking about cutting federal spending either instead of, or as part of, a move to increase the debt limit.
Bachmann is one of those opposed to allowing the U.S. to borrow more than $14.3 trillion. "I'm against another increase of the government's debt ceiling," she said. "Instead of making it easier for Washington to spend more of your tax dollars, I'm calling for Congress to do the hard work of making real and necessary cuts in federal spending."
Her list of cuts doesn't explain the impact of freezing veterans' health care funding, but the Congressional Budget Office said in a report issued in October that health care costs have been quickly increasing. VA's health care budget was $44 billion in 2009, $48 billion in 2010 and is at $52 billion this year. The report forecasts a health care budget of $69 billion or higher by 2020 if trends continue, the report estimates.
Bachmann's idea of cutting costs by reducing veterans' disability compensation by the amount received in Social Security Disability Income is not new. The proposal, which would affect more than 150,000 veterans, has long been on a list of possible budget options prepared by the Congressional Budget Office, which describes the option as a way to "eliminate duplicate payment of public compensation for a single disability."
The average SSDI benefit is $12,800 a year, according to CBO
In their annual budget options report, CBO analysts predicted strong opposition from veterans if the two benefits were offset. The report suggests the cost-cutting option would draw less opposition if veterans already receiving both payments were exempt from the change. Having it apply only to future benefits awards would mean about 3,000 veterans a year would be affected.
The two veterans' program cuts now advocated by Bachman were included in an Oct. 28 report from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, about ways to cut $343 billion in federal spending. The think tank's report projects that a freeze in VA health care costs would save $2.5 billion.
The report said cutting veterans' disability compensation for those receiving veterans' disability income would save $1.9 billion, which is roughly the same savings now claimed by Bachmann.
According to CBO's estimates, saving $1.9 billion in one year would require applying the change to all veterans receiving both payments. Applying it only to those who become eligible in the future would save only about $40 million in the first year, according to CBO.