From the New York Times:
President Bush’s budget would more than double the co-payment charged to many veterans for prescription drugs and would require some to pay a new fee of $250 a year for the privilege of using government health care, administration officials said Sunday.
The proposals, they said, are in the $2.5 trillion budget that Mr. Bush plans to unveil on Monday. White House officials said the budget advanced his goal of cutting the deficit, which hit a record last year.
“We are being tight,” Vice President Dick Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “This is the tightest budget that has been submitted since we got here.”
The proposals to increase charges to veterans face stiff opposition from veterans organizations, Democratic members of Congress and some Republicans.
Mr. Cheney said the White House had judiciously identified scores of domestic programs to be cut or eliminated. “It’s not something we’ve done with a meat ax, nor are we suddenly turning our backs on the most needy people in our society.”
The proposals could provoke months of furious debate on Capitol Hill. Democrats have already indicated that they are poised to pounce on any sign that the Bush administration is stinting on veterans’ benefits.
In recent years, Democrats have been trying to emphasize their support of veterans programs, taking aim at a constituency that has been seen as reliably Republican. The administration’s effort has caused some discomfort for Republicans.
In early January, House leaders ousted the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Representative Christopher H. Smith, Republican of New Jersey, who was seen as a strong advocate of veterans programs and higher spending. Mr. Smith was replaced by Representative Steve Buyer, Republican of Indiana.
Jim Nicholson, the new secretary of veterans affairs, heard many concerns about veterans’ health care when he had his confirmation hearing before a Senate committee last month.
Senator Larry E. Craig, Republican of Idaho, chairman of the panel, the Committee on Veterans Affairs, told Mr. Nicholson, “The fiscal environment that you inherit will be considerably less friendly than the relatively flush times the V.A. has enjoyed over the last four years.”
It’s ironic that the Bush administration will spend billions to start a war, throwing thousands of soldiers into battle, but once the soldiers return, all of a sudden they become fiscal conservatives. Don’t you just love that Cheney quote: “It’s not something we’ve done with a meat ax, nor are we suddenly turning our backs on the most needy people in our society.” Well, yeah, you are, and if I had my way, every veteran would be entitled to the same insurance the president, Congress, and Senate get. After all, they served their country.