Vets Bill Goes Down as Military Sexual-Assault Bills Come Up

Angry over process, Republicans withhold votes needed to get vets bill to the floor.

U.S. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) covers his face during a 2009 hearing. Sanders is considering introducing a bill that would end liability limits for the nuclear power industry in the event of a disaster.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
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Stacy Kaper
Feb. 27, 2014, 7:37 a.m.

Re­pub­lic­ans scuttled a $21 bil­lion vet­er­ans’ pack­age in the Sen­ate on Thursday, but have agreed to al­low com­pet­ing mil­it­ary sexu­al-as­sault bills to move to the floor for votes.

The vet­er­ans’ bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Ver­mont in­de­pend­ent, went down on a pro­ced­ur­al vote 56-41 be­cause Re­pub­lic­ans, denied the abil­ity to of­fer amend­ments, with­held the votes needed to get it to the floor.

Mean­while, long-stalled votes on com­pet­ing mil­it­ary sexu­al-as­sault le­gis­la­tion offered by Demo­crat­ic Sens. Kirsten Gil­librand of New York and Claire Mc­Caskill of Mis­souri are fi­nally ex­pec­ted to ad­vance.

After Re­pub­lic­ans ob­jec­ted to mov­ing for­ward with the bills earli­er in the week, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id and Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell struck a deal late Wed­nes­day to ex­ped­ite de­bate and al­low the meas­ures to pro­ceed as early as next week.

The Gil­librand bill would re­form the mil­it­ary justice sys­tem by strip­ping com­mand­ers of the power to de­cide which sexu­al-as­sault cases are pro­sec­uted. Gil­librand has 55 votes lined up for her bill and could man­age to pass it if she can find 60 votes needed to get the le­gis­la­tion to the floor.

Mc­Caskill’s bill in­cludes a host of non­con­tro­ver­sial re­forms, in­clud­ing dis­al­low­ing a sol­dier’s good mil­it­ary char­ac­ter to be con­sidered in the de­fense of a sexu­al as­sault and meas­ures to make it easi­er for vic­tims to chal­lenge un­fair dis­charges from the ser­vice.

The Sanders bill ex­pands vet­er­ans’ be­ne­fits in edu­ca­tion and health care, and it would re­verse a cost-of-liv­ing ad­just­ment on mil­it­ary re­tir­ees’ pen­sions that was in­cluded in last year’s budget deal. Vet­er­ans’ groups strongly sup­port the le­gis­la­tion, and some cried foul at the closed pro­cess for com­plic­at­ing its chances.

Re­pub­lic­ans op­posed the bill’s off­set, which re­lied on sav­ings from the draw­down of the wars in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan and wanted to of­fer al­tern­at­ives. But among their wish list was a vote on Ir­an sanc­tions, which Re­id said was not rel­ev­ant to the bill and would not be al­lowed.

“The Amer­ic­an Le­gion would very much like to have seen Re­id open up the bill to amend­ments, to help the bill get through the pro­cess,” said Louis Celli, a le­gis­lat­ive dir­ect­or with the group. “We would op­pose non-ger­mane amend­ments like Ir­an, but this par­tis­an­ship and games­man­ship has got to stop so that Amer­ic­an people can get the laws back that we need to help vet­er­ans.”

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