5 takeaways from U.S. Rep. Phil Roe's Thursday morning conference call

Zach Vance • May 25, 2017 at 11:05 PM

With all the bustling activity in Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. Phil Roe had plenty to talk about in a Thursday morning conference call with local reporters.

Roe expounded on his views of President Donald Trump’s latest budget proposal and doubled down on his support for an increase in defense spending. The Republican also weighed in on the Russia investigation and the Congressional Budget Office score on the House’s American Health Care Act.

• Trump’s Budget

As chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, the first thing Roe noticed in Trump’s proposed budget was a hefty increase, about $4.4 billion, in Veterans Affairs funding.

“The budget request is for $186.5 billion. When I came to Congress in 2009, that number was $97 billion,” Roe said. “So it’s essentially, very nearly doubled during that time.”

Federal anti-poverty programs weren’t so lucky. The White House’s proposal included significant cuts or elimination altogether to SNAP — formerly known as food stamps, Medicaid, Community Development Block Grants and other housing programs, all programs disproportionately relied on in Roe’s First Congressional District.

Roe said the president basically “painted us in a corner” when he claimed he would not change mandatory spending programs, such as Medicare and Social Security.

“He made a statement that he was not going to change, basically any mandatory spending. Well, that’s Medicare, Social Security, food stamps, interest on the national debt, which we have to pay, and other mandatory programs. That’s about 70 percent of the budget,” Roe said.

“We’ve wrung out about all we can wring out of the discretionary part. It’s the first time, I believe, since World War II or maybe ever, that the discretionary part of our budget hasn’t changed in nine budget years.”

Roe then shifted to boosting military spending, stating the money had to come from somewhere.

“I can tell you, I’m very concerned about the military. I’m not on the House Armed Services Committee, but I pay close attention to that because I think that’s one of our constitutionally required tasks is to protect this country,” Roe said.

“We have let our military get in bad shape, and we have got to spend the money on it. Well, the money has got to come from somewhere. We’re either going to have to take it from mandatory programs or discretionary programs, and I think we’ve done about all we can do with discretionary spending.”

• Military Spending

As noted above, Roe is a major supporter of Trump’s proposal to drastically increase military spending.

Trump’s budget currently includes increases in funding for the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, while virtually every other federal department sees considerable decreases.

“We’re going to have a raging debate on how much to increase military spending this year, but I can tell you, it’s going up significantly because the Obama Administration let the wheels fall off of it,” Roe said.

“We’ve got to do that. We live in a dangerous world, and we just saw that in Manchester unfortunately this week. I think you’ll see a big increase (in military spending). The Chinese and the Russians have been relentless in the money they’ve spent on their military, and I’m afraid we’re playing catch-up right now. We need to get started sooner rather than later.”

• CBO Score on American Health Care Act of 2017

A physician himself and harsh critic of the Affordable Care Act, Roe played a substantial role in crafting the House’s American Health Care Act of 2017, which was finally scored by the Congressional Budget Office on Thursday.

And it wasn’t what many Republicans had hoped.

According to the CBO report, the ACHA would leave about 23 million more people uninsured in 2026 than if Obamacare was left in place, but Roe downplayed the CBO’s credibility.

“I don’t put a lot of stock in those CBO reports. Look these are good people, they do a job, they fill in numbers in a static formula and come up with a number. They’re rarely even halfway close to reality,” Roe said.

Since passing the House, Roe said the Senate should take its time making adjustments to the AHCA bill.

“The Senate needs an opportunity to work through this.  Any major piece of legislation like this takes time, and I think the Trump Administration was a little, to quote Allen Greenspan, they had irrational exuberance when they thought we could get this done very quickly,” Roe said.

“These things probably shouldn’t be done quickly. They’re complicated and people need time.”

• Veterans Affairs Legislation

Tuesday was a busy day for Roe as seven bills, all pertaining to veterans affairs, were passed on the House floor.

Roe said one of his top priorities of this legislative session was to reform and expedite the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ appeal process.

Legislation that would do just that, HR 2288, was passed 418-0 by the House. Called The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, the bill would install a new procedure for veteran disability appeals, making it faster to resolve claims and potentially shorten the backlog of cases currently awaiting a decision.

“It’s a piece of legislation we’ve worked on now for four years,” Roe said. “There are 470,000 veterans out there who’s claims are under appeal right. Some of these can take as long as seven, eight years to get done.”

Other veterans legislation passed included the Veterans Choice ACT VA Scheduling Accountability Act, the Veterans Benefits Delivery Act of 2017 and the VA Prescription Data Accountability Act of 2017.

• Russia Investigation

Roe speculated that the probe into Trump’s alleged ties to Russia will ultimately be futile.

“I think it’s going to end up with a big nothing,” the Republican said. “At the end of the day, Russians are Russians and they’re going to behave like Russians ... It doesn’t appear that anybody broke any kind of law. It’s not that people shouldn’t have done what they did, but there’s been no law broken.”

Roe also called former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III “a very good choice” to head the investigation.

Email Zach Vance at [email protected] Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.

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