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(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, applauded a confirmation from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) that the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will not be affected by potential cuts from sequestration provisions included in the Budget Control Act of 2011. The OMB clarification comes after Murray wrote to GAO seeking clarification of a legal ambiguity in the Budget Control Act as it pertained to veterans. As a member of the Senate leadership and Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Murray worked during negotiations over the BCA in the summer of 2011 to protect veterans programs from potential cuts.

“I worked to make clear during negotiations on the Budget Control Act that veterans programs were off the table. As we all know, our veterans have already sacrificed so much, particularly over the last decade as they have borne the burden of fighting two wars.

“Meeting the tremendous challenges the VA faces is going to take sustained and stable investments in the care and benefits our veterans have earned. I am pleased this legal ambiguity has been cleared up. Our veterans deserve the peace of mind it helps to provide.”

The following is the letter Senator Murray sent to the GAO seeking clarification on this matter:

February 16, 2012

The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
Comptroller General
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, NW
Washington, DC  20548-0001

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

In recent months, concerns have been raised about the effect of sequestration on veterans health care.  These concerns are the result of a legal ambiguity created by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA).  Should sequestration under the BCA occur, the exemptions and special rules of sections 255 and 256 of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, as amended, will apply.  Section 255 exempts all Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs from sequestration.  However, section 256 allows a maximum 2 percent reduction in budget authority for VA health care.  The interaction of the BCA’s legislative language with these existing provisions created a legal ambiguity that must be resolved if sequestration is imposed.                    

Though I remain confident that this legal question would be resolved in favor of exempting all VA programs, I am writing to request a formal legal opinion regarding this matter.  I appreciate your attention to my request, and I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Patty Murray
Chairman