CRAIG JOINS WITH SEN. BURNS ON VETERANS FUNDING <br><i><u>Largest Increase in Spending on Veterans In the History of the United States</br></i></u>

March 14, 2006
Media contact: Jeff Schrade (202)224-9093

(Washington, DC) U.S. Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho), chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, joined with his colleagues Tuesday in supporting an amendment offered by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana) which would eliminate the need to enact a $250 annual insurance premium and increased prescription drug co-pays for some veterans. Those items were sought by the Bush administration and would have only applied to veterans with no service-connected disabilities, and who have higher incomes.

The Burns amendment was adopted by a vote of 100-0, and now becomes part of Senate Concurrent Resolution 83 which sets targets on federal spending priorities. A final vote on that full measure (S. Con. 83) is expected to occur later this week.

"I am pleased that the VA budget is a top priority during debate on the budget resolution," Craig said. "On the other hand, I am sobered. Any way you cut it, the spending proposed for the FY07 budget will result in more than a 70 percent increase in VA's medical care budget since 2001. Today's vote represents the largest increase in spending on veterans in the history of the United States."

The amendment Craig supported adds $823 million in spending to the approximately $80 billion budget President Bush proposed for veterans in 2007.

Although he voted for passage of the Burns' amendment, Sen. Craig laid out his long-term concerns with federal spending on VA programs.

"I was left with a tough decision. Without enactment of the fees and increased co-pays proposed by the VA, the system needs an additional $800 million-plus in funding. And at this time my colleagues are unwilling to accept the President's fee proposals. With that reality, I couldn't, in good conscience, vote to purposefully under fund VA medical care," Craig said. "Now we are on accelerated collision course with other federal spending priorities and I urge my colleagues to engage in a serious and candid dialogue about sustainability of this system."

The Burns amendment is budget neutral ? and assumes that other federal programs will have to be cut in order to finance the $823 million spending increase for veterans.

Craig noted that there are significant increases for important initiatives for veterans in the President's $80 billion budget request for next year. Among those including an additional $345 million for mental health services (including PTSD treatment), $64 million for homeless programs, and another $161 million in additional spending for prosthetics and sensory aids.