Republican appropriators advanced a budget bill Tuesday that includes more than $360 billion for Veterans Affairs operations but also limits on abortion access and diversity programs that Democratic lawmakers vowed to fight as the measure moves through Congress.

The legislation, the first fiscal year 2025 budget draft to be approved by a House Appropriations Committee panel this year, also includes nearly $18 billion in military construction funds for next year, including $1.1 billion for construction of 11 new military barracks projects and $2 billion for military family housing initiatives.

“[This bill] honors our commitment to those who’ve worn America’s uniform and supports our military and their loved ones,” committee chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., said at a hearing on the proposal Tuesday evening. “We’re ensuring that our national defense needs are met both at home and abroad, and we’re also upholding our pledge to our veterans.”

If approved, the VA budget would grow about 10% from fiscal year 2024 to fiscal year 2025, a significant jump considering Republicans’ constrained spending targets for other nonmilitary agencies.

But that continues a trend of consistent growth for the department’s steadily increasing benefits and medical care costs. In fiscal year 2001, the entire VA budget amounted to $48 billion in spending. In 2014, that total was $153.9 billion, still less than half of the planned budget for next fiscal year.

Democratic lawmakers on the committee said they were generally comfortable with the spending targets —although they did note broader complaints about planned Republican cuts to other domestic programs — but said they could not support the measure because of several provisions focused on controversial social issues.

Those included language prohibiting VA from conducting abortions in cases other than rape and involving the life of the mother. Since late 2022, department officials have provided abortion services at some VA medical centers in cases where the health of the veteran is at risk, a broader definition that Republican lawmakers insist runs afoul of federal rules.

In the first year of the policy, VA physicians performed fewer than 100 abortions. However, Republican lawmakers targeted the practice in early drafts of last year’s budget bills and appear poised to repeat the strategy again this appropriations cycle.

Democratic lawmakers expressed exasperation at the move.

“Why we have to go through this song and dance again when they were rejected in conference last year is stunning to me,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., ranking member on the committee’s veterans panel. “But the message that Republicans are sending is clear: They want to limit women’s access to abortions.”

The legislation also includes bans on “advancing critical race theory” and implementing White House initiatives to promote diversity, equity and inclusion. It also blocks VA officials from reporting veterans deemed incapable of managing their own affairs to national firearms database officials, a practice that critics say denies veterans their Second Amendment rights.

The appropriations bill now heads to the full committee for consideration on Thursday. Lawmakers hope to send it to the full chamber early next month and reach a compromise with Senate negotiators on a final bill ahead of the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Senate appropriators — led by majority Democrats — have yet to adopt their first drafts of the VA spending plans.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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