Congress averted a government shutdown with a rushed budget deal on Wednesday that also settles the Department of Veterans Affairs and military construction budget for all of fiscal 2017.

The measure gives VA officials $74.4 billion in discretionary spending next year, a nearly 4 percent increase but about $700 million below what the White House requested in its budget plan. Still, department leaders have signaled support for that level of funding, especially considering more significant cuts proposed by House lawmakers.

It also includes $7.72 billion for more than 200 military construction projects, a decrease of almost 6 percent but nearly $300 million above the president's request. About $1.3 billion of that is slated for military housing projects scheduled to get underway in coming months.

Those two agency budgets are the only ones to get a full-year spending plan approved before the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

Lawmakers approved a 10-week extension of federal funding at fiscal 2016 levels for all other government programs, and will need to adopt a long-term budget deal after the November elections are complete.

The move means a delay in new program starts for the first quarter of the new fiscal year, but that is less disruptive than the possibility of a partial government shutdown, which would have started Oct. 1 without a deal.

Senate Democrats and Republicans had sparred in recent days over a budget extension, largely because of the absence of emergency funding to help with drinking water contamination in Flint, Mich.

Early on Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he was satisfied that issue will be dealt with in the lame duck congressional session later this year.

The final deal passed by a margin of 72-26 in the Senate and 342-85 in the House.


Party leaders will also have to decide in November whether to pass another temporary budget measure, bridging federal funding into the next administration, or simply pass a full fiscal year budget, as Congress often belatedly does at the end of the calendar year.

But VA operations and military construction projects will move ahead regardless. The construction allocation includes $350 million for improvements to military medical facilities, $272 million for upgrades to Defense Department schools and $673 million for Guard and reserve projects.

VA funding, which will top $176.9 billion when mandatory spending is included, features $65 billion for medical programs, including $7.2 billion for medical appointments and treatment outside the VA system. Also, $5.7 billion is set aside for specifically for medical care of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

The bill also sets aside $675 million for medical and prosthetic research, $535 million for health care specifically for women veteran, and $284 million for traumatic brain injury treatment.

Lawmakers inserted $260 million for continued work on the VA electronic health record system, but restrict access to those funds until certain interoperability benchmarks are reached. Another $900 million is set aside for major and minor VA construction projects.

President Barack Obama is expected to sign the budget bill into law later this week.


Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.