Advocates push back on debt bill’s potential impact on veterans’ health, clean energy

By: - May 18, 2023 5:30 am
Milwaukee VA Hospital

The Milwaukee VA Medical Center (Photo by Veterans Health)

As Republican congressional leaders and the White House try to hammer out a deal to raise the federal debt ceiling, advocates are marshaling their own campaigns to blunt the GOP’s proposal.

This week, clean energy executives across the U.S. — including two from Wisconsin — sent a letter to the White House and the Republican and Democratic leaders of both houses opposing attempts in the House bill passed April 26 to undo clean energy provisions in the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act. 

Meanwhile, a new report from a health care advocacy group highlights the potential impact of the GOP’s “Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023” on Wisconsin veterans, because of cuts the legislation would force to veterans’ programs as well as to broader federal health care reductions.

If the Republican bill were to take effect, “116,600 veterans could lose access to outpatient visits in Wisconsin, leaving them unable to get appointments for care like wellness visits, mental health services, and substance disorder treatment,” declares the report from Protect Our Care, which advocates for preserving the Affordable Care Act and for other federal health care programs.

The Republican bill, which passed the House by two votes April 26, isn’t expected to become law. The White House, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other Congressional leaders are trying to negotiate an alternative resolution to the current federal debt ceiling stand-off. 

Advocates say they’re working to ensure the White House holds firm on long-held Democratic principles. They also remain concerned about the potential for a federal default in lieu of an agreement as well as what the House GOP demands could portend for policy battles to come.

The prospect that Republicans could regain control of both houses of Congress and the White House “is an eminently plausible reality America could face as soon as 20 months from now,” said Joe Zepecki, Wisconsin director for Protect Our Care.

“This ‘Default on America’ plan is now officially the position of every Republican member of Congress from Wisconsin and across the country. They voted for it, they own it,” Zepecki said. “If we’ve learned anything it ought to be that when politicians show us who they are, we should believe them.”

He charged that the GOP leaders in Congress are “holding the global economy hostage in order to break our promises to veterans and slash essential safety net programs like Medicaid. That should be deeply concerning to every American.”

Threat to veterans’ health care

The White House has said the House bill would require a 22% reduction in federal discretionary spending that isn’t otherwise protected or off the table. A Center on Budget Policy and Priorities analysis said the average cut would be 23%. 

GOP lawmakers have denied claims from the Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers about the Republican legislation’s impact on veterans’ programs.  PolitiFact rated Republican defenses as “mostly false,” however. 

House Republicans “have said repeatedly they intend to protect this key constituency,” the PolitiFact analysis concluded, referring to veterans. “But so far, such protections are not evident on paper.”

Republicans “won’t touch non-discretionary spending and they won’t touch defense,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Town of Vermont) said Wednesday on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal. “So that means 22% cuts to everything else. But it’s such a ridiculous idea, they can’t even put it on paper…”

The Protect Our Care report calculates what that 22% cut would mean to veterans in Wisconsin — about 361,000 people, about half of whom are enrolled in the Veterans Administration health system, according to the report.

Dave Boettcher, a 27-year Army and National Guard veteran who is speaking out about the report’s findings, said the cuts would amount to cutting one appointment per patient per year. 

Veterans are required to get a physical every two years to stay enrolled in the VA health program, he told the Wisconsin Examiner — but he worries that a patient who couldn’t get a physical because of the reduction could lose coverage altogether.

“It’s hard to say any medical appointment isn’t important,” Boettcher said. “People don’t go to the doctor because nothing’s going on — they go for a reason.”

It’s easy to say, ‘We’re only going to cut money — we’re not going to deny you anything.’ It’s the money that allows you to have anything.

– Dave Boettcher, Wisconsin veteran

The report also calculated the potential impact of other elements in the debt ceiling bill on veterans covered by Medicaid and on veterans with disabilities. About 27% of Wisconsin veterans have disabilities, according to the report, and among veterans on Medicaid, the rate is twice as high (54%). 

The report says many of those patients would be required to submit to proposed Medicaid work requirements that the legislation would impose. Those “will purposefully make it more difficult for Wisconsin veterans on Medicaid to maintain coverage,” the report states.

Boettcher said he puts no stock in GOP claims that they won’t touch veterans programs. 

“It’s easy to say, ‘We’re only going to cut money — we’re not going to deny you anything.’ It’s the money that allows you to have anything,” Boettcher said. “‘We’re going to take the money away but we’re not going to cut services’ — Really? How does that work?”

Execs object to clean energy rollback

By contrast, the House bill is explicit about rolling back clean energy measures, stating in its summary that it “repeals or modifies tax credits for renewable and clean energy, energy efficient property, alternative fuels, and electric vehicles.” Those provisions were part of the Inflation Reduction Act passed in 2022.

On Tuesday, 115 clean energy company executives wrote to President Joe Biden, McCarthy, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell urging them to reject any attempt to roll back the clean energy measures.

“The Limit, Save, Grow Act (H.R. 2811) threatens both our individual businesses and larger efforts to onshore our energy supply chain, supercharge innovation, and make our nation more energy independent than it’s ever been,” states the letter.

The two Wisconsin signers of the letter are Brian Graff, CEO of Solar Forma Design in Eau Claire, and Kevin Kane, chief economist at Green Homeowners United in the Milwaukee suburb of Greenfield. Solar Forma Design has developed a local solar panel system that can be used to provide electric power to small footprint commercial or public spaces. Green Homeowners United is a clean energy consulting and service business.

“Since the Inflation Reduction Act became law, our industry has publicly announced more than 140,000 new clean energy jobs in communities across the country,” the letter states. 

“Thousands more additional jobs will be created as our investments flow throughout the economy, building factories and clean energy infrastructure,” it adds. “It makes no sense to us that H.R. 2811 jeopardizes our nation’s economy with a catastrophic default unless these jobs are eliminated.”


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary.