WASHINGTON -- The Office of Management and Budget, a White House agency, ruled on Monday that the Department of Veterans Affairs would be exempt from large automatic cuts expected at the beginning of next year.
In a letter to lawyers for the Government Accounting Office, the OMB stated that "all programs administered by the VA, including Veterans' Medical Care, are exempt from sequestration." The VA faced billions of dollars in potential cuts under sequestration, which mandates about $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, divided evenly between defense and social programs, if lawmakers cannot agree to a deficit-reduction deal by the end of the year.
Congress had pressured the OMB to make a ruling earlier in the year to protect the VA budget. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) introduced a bill in February that would have exempted veterans' health care programs from automatic cuts. In a letter to President Barack Obama then, Miller wrote, "All Americans, especially our veterans, deserve to understand the ramifications if sequestration is ever imposed."
Republican lawmakers have also attempted to block the Pentagon from further cuts under sequestration, which Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has referred to as a "goofy meat ax approach."
Claude Chafin, a press secretary for the House Armed Services Committee, called the OMB ruling an "encouraging" move.
"It's a sign that they recognize that you can't wait to resolve sequestration. It needs to be done as soon as possible," Chafin told The Huffington Post. "We're just looking for the same moves over on the defense side."
Both Chafin and an OMB official said that the ruling was specifically focused on the VA and could not be used as a precedent for blocking cuts in the Pentagon budget.
The OMB official stressed that the administration is working to avoid the need for automatic cuts in any federal agency. "The Administration is not planning for a sequester and is urging Congressional action on a balanced approach to deficit reduction to avoid a sequester," the official wrote in an email.
The VA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Read the full letter below: