Mr. President, any discussion of the national security impacts of a long-term continuing resolution or a potential government shutdown would be incomplete without including the potential impact on America’s 22.3 million vets.
The good news is that under any scenario, vets would still be able to receive health care thanks to advance funding for 2014. The bad news is that most other VA programs would be shortchanged under a CR and crippled by a government shutdown. The VA budget would be impacted by the funding shortfalls or stoppages, but America’s vets would be the victims.
VA advance funding does not extend to such important programs as disability claims processing, hospital and clinic construction, or VA cemetery operations, to name but a few examples. Given the gravity of backlogs in the VA claims processing program, the Senate CR includes a provision funding claims processing at the 2014 budget request level. But it does not include a package of reforms and initiatives in the 2014 Senate MilCon/VA bill intended to improve productivity, accuracy, and accountability. For claims processing, a CR is less than optimal. A government shutdown could be catastrophic.
The current backlog of VA disability claims stands at 435,000, an improvement over the high water mark of 632,000 just six months ago.
But the strides VA has made in addressing the backlog problem would suffer a severe setback under a government shutdown. Currently, the VA processes 5,500 to 6,000 claims a day, a massive improvement in productivity that would be stopped in its tracks by a government shutdown. The longer the shutdown, the more severe the impact.
Think of a fender-bender in the middle of a busy freeway. Traffic behind the accident backs up quickly, and the backup extends farther and farther as cars pile up behind it. Once the cars are towed away, the backup does not magically disappear. It takes time for traffic to return to normal.The same holds true for an interruption in VA claims processing. The VA estimates that for every week that claims processing would be halted under a government shutdown, it would lose a month of progress in processing claims. Our Nation – our vets – cannot afford this delay.
Claims processing would not be the only VA program imperiled by a government shutdown. If the government shuts down, funding for payment of mandatory VA compensation, pension, and education benefits would run out by the end of October, denying a lifeline of support to thousands of vets.
For anyone who cares about America’s vets, the notion of forcing a government shutdown is unthinkable.
Mr. President, passage of a clean CR through November 15 is imperative to give Congress time to negotiate a way forward to fund government operations, agency by agency, through 2014.
My subcommittee also funds the Defense Department’s military construction program. A government shutdown would have serious consequences in this area. The furloughing of civilian personnel overseeing construction contracts could not only disrupt and delay ongoing projects, but could provoke contract interruption and increase project costs. A CR prevents new starts so regardless of the level of funding, no new MilCon projects could be undertaken in 2014 under a CR. A CR and government shutdown would bring DOD’s MilCon program to a screeching halt.
The CR before the Senate today buys time, without any extraneous riders or political histrionics. There is a time and a place for everything. The place for political statements is elsewhere. The time for keeping the government operating until a comprehensive appropriations bill can be crafted is here. I urge my colleagues to support the clean CR pending before the Senate. Mr. President, I yield the floor.