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House committee slashes VA performance bonuses, and more cuts could be coming soon

AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

The House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday approved an appropriations bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs that would cap VA performance bonuses at $300 million a year, a $60 million cut compared to the current cap.

Additionally, some House members are already considering ways to trim VA performance bonuses even more when the appropriations bill hits the House floor in the coming weeks.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald speaks at a news conference at the Veterans Affairs Department in Washington, Monday, Sept. 8, 2014. McDonald discussed his visits with VA facilities across the country and outline his priorities. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald will have a little bit less to hand out in performance bonuses next year if a new House spending bill becomes law. Image: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Republicans and Democrats have been furious with the VA for the bonuses that were paid out to top officials over the last several years, at a time when the VA was failing to get medical care to thousands of veterans across the country.

Legislation passed last year cut VA bonuses from $400 million to $360 million. That cut wasn't nearly as big as many in the House wanted, but it was at least a start at punishing the VA for rewarding its employees over veterans.

Earlier this year, the House unanimously passed legislation to limit bonuses further, to $300 million. That House vote didn't make the bonus limitation take effect — as a next step, the Senate would also have to pass it, and the Senate has yet to do so.

But on Wednesday, the House Appropriations Committee found another way to get there. The committee's spending bill for the VA assumed the same $300 million limit on bonuses, and rescinded any additional money the VA might have used to pay out more in bonuses.

Members like Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) have said further reductions in bonus payments should be made in order to pay for a $1.4 billion cost overrun at the VA's new facility in Colorado, which is still under construction. The VA has rejected this idea, and has said the money should instead come out of a new program aimed at letting veterans find care outside the VA system.

A spokesman said it's possible that Coffman might try to include an amendment to the VA spending bill later this year to require that at least some of the money to pay for the Colorado cost overruns come from VA performance bonuses. If the current shortfall of about $1 billion were paid for entirely in VA bonuses, it would take about three years to pay it off.

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