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White House opposes House effort to cut bonus awards to VA employees

President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Washington. Obama is holding an afternoon news conference Wednesday to share his take on the midterm election results after his party lost control of the Senate, and lost more turf in the GOP-controlled House while putting a series of Democratic-leaning states under control of new Republican governors. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The White House said Wednesday that it opposes a Republican plan to cut bonus payments to Department of Veterans Affairs employees by $60 million in the next fiscal year.

Republicans have been aggressively pushing to chop VA bonuses ever since it was revealed last year that the VA was purposefully delaying veterans' access to health care. In fiscal year 2013, the VA was paying out about $400 million in bonuses, even as the department was failing thousands of veterans and trying to cover up the scandal.

President Barack Obama gestures as he speaks during a news conference in the East Room of the White House, on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, in Washington. Obama is holding an afternoon news conference Wednesday to share his take on the midterm election results after his party lost control of the Senate, and lost more turf in the GOP-controlled House while putting a series of Democratic-leaning states under control of new Republican governors. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) President Barack Obama would veto a House spending bill to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs, in part because of a lower cap the bill would impose on bonuses paid out to employees of the broken VA. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The House responded last year by capping bonuses at $360 million, and last week, the House Appropriations Committee proposed a $300 million cap.

But the White House said it opposes this cut, and said the proposed cap is about $160 million lower than what it should be.

"The administration also objects to the committee's other reductions to the overall VA request, including $159 million in reductions for employee awards, bonuses, and the president's proposed 1.3 percent pay raise for federal employees," the White House said.

Democrats have said cutting bonuses would only make it harder for the VA to retain qualified employees, and the White House mirrored that argument.

"As VA attempts to enhance staffing to deliver better care to veterans, these reductions will hinder the department's ability to recruit and retain personnel critical to the provision of benefits and services to veterans," it said. "The administration urges the Congress to provide the proposed 1.3 percent pay increase for federal civilian employees."

The White House also complained that the House bill fails to give the VA another $582 million for construction. But House Republicans have said the VA has made a complete mess of a $1.7 billion construction project in Denver that was originally expected to cost $328 million.

More broadly, the White House said it would encourage President Barack Obama to veto the VA bill and any other spending bill that aligns with the Republicans' budget plan. Obama has said in the past he would veto any bill that fits in with the GOP budget, which would force government spending to increase more slowly compared to those offered by Democrats.

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