Congress addresses legislative, military appropriations bills

Just a quick couple updates from this week.

First, the House has officially begun the appropriations season.

We started with two bills. One, the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill sets the funding levels for Congress – the House, Senate, Library of Congress, Government Accountability Office and some other smaller ancillary line items. I offered an amendment to that bill that, unfortunately, ended up being blocked in the House.

In short, my amendment would have ended the practice of members of Congress being able to lease vehicles with their official office funds. Over the years, there have been a number of cases where members of the House have leased luxury vehicles like Lexuses and Cadillacs.

As a taxpayer, I was pretty offended at that. With everything this country has been through, and with everything we are asking federal agencies to do to tighten their belts, I just think it sends the wrong message. The sad thing is that there are some members who have legitimate reason to lease a vehicle for official use, and they have bent over backward to make sure the costs were absolutely minimal. The program has just been so thoroughly abused that it’s hard to justify continuing it. At least in my opinion.

In any case, my amendment got voted down this time (196-221). But it was close, and I will definitely continue to push this issue. Ending the program may not save much, but I think the principle is important.

Military and veterans appropriations

The other appropriations bill we considered this week was the Military Construction and Veterans Administration bill, which funds the VA and various construction projects (as the title suggests).

Last year’s bill actually had more direct, local relevance for us.

In the bill we passed a year ago, we appropriated funds for a "State Home Grant" account that ended up providing a potential $23 million for a 120-bed veterans nursing home in Marion County. The VA in Washington had put the project down as a “priority one”, which basically guarantees its approval at the federal level.

The only catch was that in order for the county to get the money, the state of Florida had to agree to provide matching funds.

It remains to be seen whether the state will follow through, or whether they will elect to direct the money to a different county. At this point, it’s largely out of my hands. I’ve pushed the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs and the Governor’s Office to go with Marion.

But absent a congressional earmark, which we’ve banned in the House, I unfortunately don’t have a legislative mechanism to ensure that the money ends up in our area (as intended at the federal level). The resources are there, it’s just a question of getting at it from the state end.

That’s about it for now. Much more to report next week. In the meantime, have a great weekend and please let me know if there is anything I can do.

Richard Nugent,
Member of Congress, 11th Congressional District