Senate Democrats abruptly reversed course Wednesday morning, announcing they would vote on the House bill to undo $6 billion in cuts to veterans' benefits later in the day.
By agreeing to vote on the measure, Democrats are signaling their tacit support for the bill, meaning it will likely clear the chamber and head to President Obama's desk. The measure would offset the $6 billion in spending by extending the sequester's mandatory spending cuts for another year.
The newfound support is a surprise reversal by Democrats, particularly after they spent Tuesday afternoon declaring that veterans had already paid their debts in full to the nation. Congress, they said, should not waste time arguing over a way to offset the legislation's spending, but instead should pass a clean bill.
A senior Senate Democratic aide said Democrats decided to bring up the House-passed bill because they were unable to reach an agreement with Republicans on amendments to their own bill to restore the benefits. That measure, from embattled Arkansas Democrat Mark Pryor, would restore the benefits without offsetting them and add the spending to the deficit.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had said "no" when asked at a press conference Tuesday afternoon if he would support the House pay-for, before calling Republicans hypocrites. Reid was angry that Republicans had balked at extending the sequester to fund an extension of the now-expired unemployment-insurance expansion, but they now were open to the same mechanism for funding veterans benefits.
"That's actually very interesting. We understand they are going to pay-for the COLA."¦ That pay-for, you remember, that was for unemployment-insurance extension. They didn't like that, but now they like that. This shows the absurdity and lack of common sense and reason that Republicans in Congress have."
What's ironic is that Senate Democrats appeared to have devised a path to pressure some Republicans into voting for the Senate bill pushed by Pryor that would reverse the cuts without paying for them, because a handful of Republicans like Sen. John McCain and Johnny Isakson indicated they would vote to reverse the cuts even without a pay-for.
The House bill offsets the cost of reversing the cuts by extending the sequester an additional year. It is expected to easily pass the Senate, which is eager to adjourn early for President's Day recess and leave town early before an expected snowstorm.
Democrats' decision to take the House bill — which passed by an overwhelming 326 to 90 Tuesday with support from 120 Democrats — is an acknowledgment that for once it is better politics to resolve the issue and pass something that would quickly become law, than to continue fighting a losing protracted battle.
Veterans organizations have been fighting the cuts vociferously and have put intense pressure on lawmakers to unwind them since they were included in last year's budget agreement, arguing they are slap in the face to men and women who risked their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.