Senate blocks Dems' bill boosting vets' benefits

The legislation would provide $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation's veterans
Associated Press
Feb 28, 2014

A divided Senate on Thursday derailed Democratic legislation that would have provided $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for the nation's veterans. The bill fell victim to election-year disputes over spending and fresh penalties against Iran.

Each party covets the allegiance of the country's 22 million veterans and their families, and each party blamed the other for turning the effort into a chess match aimed at forcing politically embarrassing votes.

Republicans used a procedural move to block the bill after Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chided GOP lawmakers about their priorities.

"I personally, I have to say this honestly, have a hard time understanding how anyone could vote for tax breaks for billionaires, for millionaires, for large corporations and then say we don't have the resources to protect our veterans," said Sanders, the measure's chief author.

Democrats noted that more than two dozen veterans groups supported the legislation. But Republicans said they still favor helping veterans while also wanting to be prudent about federal spending.

"We're not going to be intimidated on this," said Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. "We're going to do the right things for the veterans of America."

The fight over priorities demonstrated again the bitter divisions that have restrained the legislative process in recent years. Efforts to address immigration, a tax overhaul and job creation all seem likely to go nowhere this year.

Republicans criticized how most of Sanders' bill was paid for — with unspent money from the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and the winding down of American military involvement in Afghanistan. The GOP says those are not real savings because no one expected those dollars to be spent as those wars ended.

Republicans also objected to provisions making more veterans without service-connected injuries eligible for treatment at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities. They said that would swamp an already overburdened system.

The vote sidetracking the bill was 56-41, with supporters falling four votes short of the 60 they needed to prevail. Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Dean Heller of Nevada were the only Republicans voting to keep the legislation alive and the only lawmakers crossing party lines on the vote.

Veterans groups complained about being caught in partisan crossfire.

"Veterans don't have time for this nonsense and veterans are tired of being used as political chew toys," said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which supported the legislation.

Democrats wasted little time trying to cash in on the vote.

Within moments, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee unleashed an email headlined, "Mitch McConnell Votes Against Kentucky Veterans." McConnell is up for re-election this year.

Republicans said there would be no retribution from voters because the Democratic bill would have harmed veterans' services by flooding them with too many people. They also said this year's election campaigns will focus on other issues, such as President Barack Obama's health law.

"We're sort of fooling ourselves to believe that this drives the election issue list," said Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, top Republican on the Veterans' Affairs Committee.

Thursday's showdown came after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to allow votes on a GOP amendment slicing the bill's size and adding the penalties against Iran for its nuclear program.

Obama opposes new penalties while international negotiations with Iran proceed.

Fifty-nine senators of both parties have sponsored a separate bill imposing the punishment if the talks fail, though Obama's effort has weakened Democratic calls for a quick Senate vote. A vote could put the administration and some Democrats who favor the proposal in an awkward spot.

The White House did not issue a public statement on whether it supported the veterans' bill.

Sanders' legislation addressed everything from making more veterans eligible for in-state college tuition to providing fertility or adoption services for some wounded troops left unable to conceive.

The VA would have been given more tools to eat into its backlog of 390,000 benefit claims awaiting action for more than 125 days. The bill also would have bolstered programs for veterans who suffered sexual abuse, and would have increased dental care and provided more alternative medicine, such as yoga for stress.

In a two-year test program, some overweight veterans living more than 15 minutes from a VA gym would have been given memberships at private health clubs.

Benefits for some spouses of deceased veterans would have improved, and aid to relatives caring for a wounded veteran would have been expanded to include those who served before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Comments

JMOP

Why the boost in medical? We got obamacare right?

Anyways we got Biden encouraging mothers, including single mothers, to quit their jobs for a few years and stay home to collect our money. Way to be proactive there Biden boy!

rbenn

Lets not forget 4.6 billion in child tax credits for illegals theres a good start

Bluto

If these "illegals" are filing taxes in order to receive these tax credits , how are they illegal ? That would mean that they had paid taxes somewhere down the line and received a W2 . HOW DARE THEY COME TO THIS COUNTRY AND PAY TAXES !!! Funny I always thought illegals were under the government radar .

JMOP

@ Bluto
Illegals collect government assistance. That's why they come here. They come to find a job, but they also qualify for benefits, especially the anchor baby parents.

JMOP

I'm all for tax credits, but only if they paid into the pot, if equal or more than the credit.

Peninsula Pundit

Canada actually pays mothers if they stay home and raise their children for the 1st year of life.
Oh, what a terrible idea, right?
Let those kids fend for themselves!
Pay a minimum wage stranger to watch over your bundle of joy as the mother is forced to go back to work to keep the lights on.
That's the republican way, for sure!

JMOP

We are not Canada! We are America! Mothers are forced to what, pay taxes, or collect taxes?
There's nothing wrong with staying home and raising your kids, I actually support that, what I don't support is the VIP of The United States of America telling women who actually want better than to collect all the handouts that are available to them, to quit their job, and let others pick up the tab, and the responsibility. That's what I find wrong!

Peninsula Pundit

I'll meet you halfway.
The idea of being able to stay home for the first year of a baby's life is a good thing.
Right now,many women are forced to 'pay taxes' because they cannot afford to go without a paycheck. This is not news.
You say that you support staying home with the kids, but then you use the phrase,'...telling women who actually want better.'
My friend, ask most any mother. There is nothing 'better' than having the opportunity to stay home with your newborn and not have to worry how the bills are going to be paid.
This is what Canada does and is something we should do in this country.
Just because we're the 'all-powerful,all-knowing USA' doesn't necessarily make us right all the time, y'know.
BTW, the mother had to have been employed before maternity leave to collect this 1st year money, but she only gets what she was being paid beforehand and no more than 1 year.

JMOP

My quote about women wanting better than handouts is correct. Why does Biden want to lead single women into poverty? They say the GOP has a war against women?

ladydye_5

You can stay home with your babies. Many choose to have fancy SUV's, fancy clothes, smartphones, get their hair done every 6 weeks, new nails every month, the list goes on and on. It is called sacrifice. How bad do you WANT to stay home with your baby. I have also seen mothers that cannot HANDLE staying home with their children 24/7.

bayshore

Hello, Marcy, are you listening to your constiuents???? Time to kick her out.

Peninsula Pundit

Hopefully Dennis will run.
He was the better choice, anyway.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Can we get someone who hasn't made a career out of a position that was meant to be temporary? There are many of other people who would enjoy the opportunity. Seeing the same names brought up over and over is kind of disappointing and I suspect many who may otherwise run are intimidated by the bank accounts, browbeating, and apathy that each long-term incumbent brings with them.

I say this while on the topic of a Democrat running, but the sentiment runs just as strongly for entrenched Republicans.

grumpy

Re: "I say this while on the topic of a Democrat running, but the sentiment runs just as strongly for entrenched Republicans."

Tis why i want more parties. More parties, more choices. Get some new blood, new ideas, more competition, More interest. The two party system has brought us to where we are now. Is anybody happy with what we now have?

Stop It

+1

KURTje

Bluto Contango isn't a veteran. He does not know.

Contango

Re: "Bluto,"

Like I wrote before kookie:

Take some of that Pentagon money that Pres. Obama wants to use for mfg. hubs and increase vet bennies.

Keep blo'n kk.

Pterocarya frax...

Where is KnuckleDragger to tell us how awful it is to dump on veterans now? When Republicans do it, all we get are crickets.

Pages