Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced a bill with the most “the most comprehensive legislation for veterans to come before the Senate in decades,” per a one pager of the bill. It’s up for a vote Monday, around 3PM. This bill is chock full of very important benefits that our veterans are entitled to and should already have. It’s a bipartisan effort.
This legislation is the result of meetings with veterans’ groups and communities. It’s supported by “virtually every veterans organization in the country including The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).” (Read theSummary.)
So naturally, Republicans are threatening to filibuster it, ostensibly because they want a better way to pay for it. They don’t like the war savings pay-for.
Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur tweeted:
On Senate veterans bill: Rs open to allowing cloture to get on it, but they oppose war savings pay-for. So may filibuster before final vote.
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) February 25, 2014
And Manu Raju, Senior Congressional Reporter for POLITICO, tweeted:
Lindsey Graham says he will vote to proceed to the vets bill but won't vote to end debate unless there's a better way to pay for it
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) February 25, 2014
To explain, the CBO is required to assume that war spending will grow each and every year based on the rate of inflation, but since we are in the drawdown phase of both wars, we won’t be spending as much money on war. The supporters of the veterans bill are saying that this money will pay for the benefits, which seems kind of fitting.
But Republicans don’t like the idea. Maybe they don’t like anything with the phrase “drawdown” or “paid for” in it, it’s hard to say (given their unfunded tax cuts under Bush, unfunded Medicare Part D, and unfunded wars).
But no matter how committed Republicans are to pretending to be fiscal conservatives when someone else is in charge, when we make promises to our veterans, we need to honor them.
Here’s what Sanders bill would mean, as laid out by a statement of support by DAV:
“This massive omnibus bill, unprecedented in our modern experience, would create, expand, advance, and extend a number of VA benefits, services and programs that are important to DAV and to our members. For example, responding to a call from DAV as a leading veterans organization, it would create a comprehensive family caregiver support program for all generations of severely wounded, injured and ill veterans. Also, the bill would authorize advance appropriations for VA’s mandatory funding accounts to ensure that in any government shutdown environment in the future, veterans benefits payments would not be delayed or put in jeopardy. This measure also would provide additional financial support to survivors of service members who die in the line of duty, as well as expanded access for them to GI Bill educational benefits. A two-plus year stalemate in VA’s authority to lease facilities for health care treatment and other purposes would be solved by this bill.”
And yet, John McCain claimed that Sanders doesn’t know what vets want. Burgess Everett, a POLITICO congressional reporter tweeted:
— Burgess Everett (@burgessev) February 25, 2014
Apparently Senator McCain believes that he speaks for all veterans and apparently all veterans would rather not have these benefits (partial list):
Restoration of Full COLA for Military Retirees: This legislation would restore full cost-of-living adjustments for all military retirees.
• Authorization of Major Medical Facility Leases: This legislation would authorize VA to enter into 27 major medical facility leases in 18 states and Puerto Rico.
• VA Health Care and Dental Care Expansion: This legislation includes provisions that would expand access to VA health care – including complementary and alternative medicine – and dental care, in a cost-effective and equitable way.
• Advance Appropriations for VA: This legislation would ensure veterans receive consistent access to the benefits they have earned by establishing advance appropriations for the mandatory accounts at VA.
• Ending the benefits backlog: Members from both sides of the aisle have presented legislative solutions (incorporated in this bill) that would support VA’s ongoing efforts and would make needed improvements to the claims system.
• In-State Tuition Assistance for Post-9/11 Veterans: This legislation would give our transitioning servicemembers a fair shot at attaining their educational goals without incurring an additional financial burden.
McCain says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” on behalf of veterans and their families.
When it comes to insisting on paying for things a certain way, Republicans are hardly experts. This is the party that smirked “deficits don’t matter” as they racked up the charges on Obama’s credit card. Now they want Obama to pay off the entire credit card including the interest from their sprees, but without any revenue. And if he dares to try to uphold previous commitments to veterans, Republicans tell him he must pay for it their way first.
Sure, war savings are a bit of a gimmick, but then again, they’re not. Democrats prefer to spend that money on things like education and a social safety net, while Republicans are very hawkish and enjoy running about the globe invading a sovereign nation on a misguided and inaccurate whim. When the money is being spent on their invasions, Republicans don’t even bother putting the war on the budget. But when that same money is moved over into the veterans’ column, suddenly they call it a gimmick.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.