Politics & Government

California military and VA projects stung in Congress’ Zika fight

The flight crew stands by for the last F/A-1C Hornet flight out of Naval Air Station Lemoore on Feb. 17, 2016. It is being replaced by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
The flight crew stands by for the last F/A-1C Hornet flight out of Naval Air Station Lemoore on Feb. 17, 2016. It is being replaced by the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. jwalker@fresnobee.com

California military and veterans’ facilities are hostage to the congressional partisanship that’s hung up emergency Zika funding.

Naval Air Station Lemoore, in rural Kings County, seeks millions of dollars for an engine repair facility. At Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, officials await money for a fuel system. For the time being, a new Veterans Affairs medical center serving Northern San Joaquin Valley residents is stuck.

All the California projects, and others like them, are passengers aboard a roughly $83 billion funding vehicle that had seemed headed to the White House for a signature until the wheels came off on Capitol Hill. Although the money should eventually start rolling again, it hasn’t been pretty.

“I’m very disappointed that there’s no compromise,” Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California said Tuesday.

A senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Feinstein helps shepherd the annual bills that fund the federal government. The combined fiscal year 2017 bill, with money for Lemoore and the other facilities, covers military construction and the VA.

The package itemizes $26.7 million for Lemoore’s engine repair facility to service the Navy’s F-35C Joint Strike Fighter and $26.5 million to replace the hydrant fuel system at Travis, as well as tens of millions of dollars for construction in support of San Diego-based SEAL teams.

“I think we were pretty much able to deliver what they needed,” Republican Rep. David Valadao, of Hanford, California, said in an interview Wednesday.

Valadao, whose district includes Lemoore, is a member of the House Appropriations Committee’s negotiating team that crafted the final funding package.

Among VA projects, the bill includes $194 million for what’s called “realignment of medical facilities in Livermore.” This encompasses construction of a long-awaited VA outpatient facility in the San Joaquin County community of French Camp.

“Veterans in our region have waited too long for this clinic,” said Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney of Stockton, California.

The bill also includes money for strengthening VA facilities in San Francisco and West Los Angeles against earthquakes, a boost for clearing the VA’s disability claims backlog and targeted efforts such as research on “gender-appropriate prosthetics.”

Wrapped in patriotic colors, the VA and military construction projects are usually as routine as it gets in a gridlocked Congress. The Senate passed its version of the package in May, including $1.1 billion for responding to the mosquito-borne Zika virus, by 89-8.

The entire package has since become mostly known for its Zika provisions. Despite what all agree is an emergency, it also has stalled because Democrats oppose Republican-added provisions that included restrictions on Planned Parenthood funding, loosened rules on pesticide spraying and cuts to the Affordable Care Act.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called the revised measure “the most irresponsible legislation” he had ever seen, and McNerney was one of only six Democrats in the House of Representatives who voted for it last week.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from Bakersfield, California, countered that the Senate Democrats who blocked final approval Tuesday were engaged in a “sickening display of partisanship.”

“It’s officially summer,” McCarthy said. “Mosquitoes aren’t waiting to spread the Zika virus until Democrats figure out how to best politically posture themselves.”

Valadao likewise blasted Democrats for “playing politics” with the funding bill, while Democrats threw the blame back at Republicans.

The Senate is scheduled to revisit the bill with another vote following the Fourth of July recess, a bit of political staging that will precede practical end-game negotiations.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10