Vote Explanation for H.R. 4974 — Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs & Related Agencies Appropriations Act

When Paul Ryan became Speaker of the House at the end of last year, he did so based on the commitment to bring “regular order” back to the U.S. House of Representatives. This includes the passage of a responsible and timely annual budget, as well the twelve appropriations bills, which authorize funding for all of the federal government’s agencies and programs. Unfortunately, due in large part to the obstructiveness of the Tea Party Caucus, Republican Leadership has been unable to bring a budget to the House Floor for a vote. We are now advancing appropriations bills without any budget framework in place.

Today, the House voted on H.R. 4974, which authorizes funding for military construction projects and programs at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). This appropriations bill historically receives broad, bipartisan support in recognition of the important role the VA has for our service members and their families. This year’s bill included:

  • $7.7 billion for Military Construction — $250 million above the President’s request.
  • Significant funding for medical and prosthetic research, paperless claims processing, health record digitization, and the Board of Veterans Appeals account.
  • $7.8 billion for mental health programs including $164 million for suicide prevention outreach — $69.8 million of which is directed to the Veterans Crisis Line.
  • A prohibition on the Confederate Battle Flag from being flown from flagpoles at cemeteries operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

An amendment offered by my Democratic colleague to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination in federal contracting was about to pass with bipartisan support. Against the “regular order” protocols of the House, Republican leaders held the vote open as they pressured their members to change their vote. Consequently, the amendment failed to pass by one vote. It is absolutely shameful that House Republicans would resort to strong-arming members into voting for discrimination.

While I fully intended to support this legislation, House Republican Leadership once again demonstrated that their commitment to “regular order” is nothing more than empty words. The clear lack of courage displayed by my Republican colleagues is fundamentally against the very values that our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line to defend, and history will not forget their bigotry. That is why I voted against this legislation.