The biggest spending bill for veterans in decades goes down to defeat in a divided Senate
The largest piece of veterans legislation in decades -- aimed at expanding health care, education and other benefits -- was rejected Thursday by the Senate on a procedural issue after proponents failed to obtain 60 votes to keep the bill alive.
Wrangling over an issue -- veterans -- that often receives bipartisan support, the legislation died on a vote of 56-41, with only two Republicans voting for it.
Most Republicans said it was too large, too costly and would burden a Department of Veterans Affairs already struggling to keep up with promised benefits.
Sen Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent and chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee who authored the bill, argued that many provisions in the bill have won bipartisan support in other pieces of pending legislation before Congress.
Republicans complained about how to pay for it. Sanders' legislation had more than 140 provisions costing $21 billion over 10 years.
Most of that money was to come from billions of dollars the government projected it would be allowed to spend on wars overseas in the fight against al-Qaeda.But Republicans argued that this is "phony" budgeting becasue U.S. participation in the Iraq War is over and operations in Afghanistan are winding down.
The legislation would have restored cost-of-living increases for the pensions of future military retirees; expanded VA health care by allowing acquisition of 27 new medical facilities and paid for reproductive services for 2,300 troops wounded in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
It also would have expanded compensation for family caregivers of disabled veterans — something now provided for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan — to families of veterans of all wars.
The bill was supported by nearly all veterans groups.
"Can we put politics aside for the good of our nation's veterans?" Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., former chairwoman of the VA committee, argued in urging its passage. "Can we show these heroes that - despite our differences - we will work as diligently toward getting them the benefits and care they've earned as they have worked for our nation?"
"Before we expand that system," argued Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., "what is needed is rigorous oversight and debate about how we're doing what we're doing now...When access is delayed, that's care denied."