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Congressman Tom Cole

Representing the 4th District of Oklahoma

A Boost for Our Nation’s Veterans and Military

March 26, 2018
Weekly Columns
After passing multiple continuing resolutions throughout the past year, Congress has finally fulfilled its duty to the American people to fully fund the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 Fiscal Year. This is a significant accomplishment in the progress to return to regular order in the appropriations process. For too long, we have kicked the can down the road and failed to keep our government funding up to date. This habit was damaging and costly to federal programs and agencies, and especially to the military. Fortunately, Congress recently passed the Bipartisan Budget Deal, which was a positive step in the right direction to support the final omnibus legislation passed last week. Although no side of the aisle got everything it wanted, the Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus reflects a broadly supported compromise, with strong legislative wins for our military, veterans and national security.
 
It is Congress’ responsibility to the American taxpayer to fully fund the federal government each fiscal year. The Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus will enhance our nation’s economy, protect its health, improve its national security and most importantly, deliver a robust military. This spending bill is gives the military its largest investment in 15 years, and will lift the military out of the harmful sequester. It provides $654.6 billion in both base funding and Global War on Terror and Overseas Contingency Operations funding – a $61.1 billion increase from Fiscal Year 2017. These funds will help bolster key programs that support troop training, equipment and facility maintenance, improving technology, research and development, and most importantly, fill any readiness shortfalls. Furthermore, the money will boost troop numbers so the U.S. has a larger, more robust military and able fighting force. It also supports the well-being of our troops by allowing a 2.4% pay raise and $34.4 billion for the Defense Health Program that will care for our troops, their families and retirees.
 
In addition to investing in our armed forces and the Department of Defense, the omnibus allocated the largest dollar amount in history to the Department of Veteran Affairs at $85.1 billion. These funds will allow the VA to provide medical care for 7 million patients and address shortfalls that have hindered the efficiency of our VA medical centers across the nation. About $782 million will initiate the development of a new VA electronic health record system, allowing for accurate and up to date data transfers between the VA and the Department of Defense. Furthermore, funds will help reduce the VA’s disability claims backlog so that veterans can receive compensation and care more quickly.
 
The legislation includes provisions that go beyond the President’s requests. The bill includes $1.571 billion to improve physical border security, which will allow for more than 90 miles of a border wall system. Funds will also increase detention space and allow for more boots on the ground near the border. Border technology, like surveillance systems and opioid detection mechanisms is boosted as well, with $655.6 million in funds.
 
These are just a few examples of the good provisions that this comprehensive funding bill contains. Supporting our men and women in uniform is an issue that doesn’t belong to any party – and both Democrats and Republicans supported this bill. Now that it is signed into law, it is time to start considering the funding legislation for Fiscal Year 2019. As Congress moves forward in this process, it is imperative that we work to return to regular order, and pass the next spending bill responsibly, and on time.