GOP Slams Dems for Playing Politics With Veterans' Benefits

Image: GOP Slams Dems for Playing Politics With Veterans' Benefits

Thursday, 27 Feb 2014 10:24 PM

By Todd Beamon

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Senate Republicans on Thursday attacked Democrats for playing politics with a $21 billion bill that would have expanded benefits for veterans — leading them to block an effort by Majority Leader Harry Reid to move the legislation to a full floor vote.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky charged that the legislation "was not considered in committee, greatly expands spending without any realistic offset, and would vastly overwhelm the Veterans Administration healthcare system.

"It’s shameful that Senate Democrats would seek to score political points by rushing to the floor a bill the committee did not consider, and could have otherwise been handled in a bipartisan manner through regular order.

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"Unfortunately, it’s become standard practice around here for the majority to pursue partisan legislation in a take-it-or-leave-it manner, so it’s unsurprising that nobody other than the majority leader and the committee chairman has been allowed the opportunity to amend this bill."

On a 56-41 vote, Democrats failed to muster the 60 votes needed to waive the procedural vote necessary to move the legislation to the full Senate for a vote. Two Republicans, Dean Heller of Nevada and Jerry Moran of Kansas, voted with the Democrats.

"We're not going to be intimidated on this," GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said before the vote. "We're going to do the right things for the veterans of America."

Under the bill, more veterans would have become eligible for in-state college tuition, even improved dental care — and some wounded troops left unable to have children would have received fertility or adoption services.

In addition, the Veteran's Administration would have received more resources to ease its backlog of cases, and the bill would have bolstered programs for veterans who suffered sexual abuse.

The nation has more than 22 million veterans and their families.

McConnell charged that Reid, the Nevada Democrat, was playing election-year politics with the bill by refusing to allow votes on a GOP amendment that would have cut the bill's size and would have added penalties against Iran for its nuclear program.

The Iran sanctions measure was necessary because Reid would not allow the upper chamber to hold a separate vote, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the ranking GOP member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, told The Hill.

President Barack Obama opposes new penalties while international negotiations with Tehran proceed.

Republicans also accused Democrats of creating false hopes with the bill, by saying that its $21 billion cost would come from unspent money from the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and from the winding down of American military involvement in Afghanistan.

Those are not real savings, GOP senators said, because no one expected those dollars to be spent as those wars ended.

Republicans further objected to provisions that would make more veterans without service-connected injuries eligible for treatment at VA centers. That provision, they charged, would swamp an already overburdened system.

“I challenge any of our colleagues, Senate Democrats, to come to the floor and name one program they’re willing to terminate in order to help fund our veterans adequately," Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said before the vote.

"Come down and let’s hear it.

"There’s a circling of the wagon in this administration."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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