Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will try to push forward on a wide-ranging veterans’ bill once Congress returns later this month.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont, previously said his legislation could be taken up on Feb. 6, but it got waylaid by a pair of proposals that sought to reverse the roughly $6 billion in cuts to veteran pensions included in the December budget agreement.
After a nearly two-month squabble over how to pay for the pension funding, the Senate passed a bill Wednesday that reverses the 1 percent cut to working-age retirees’ cost-of-living adjustment by extending the sequester on Medicare spending by a year.
Sanders’s legislation also reverses the COLA cuts and tackles a swath of veterans issues, including health care, education, and employment. Whether the legislation will move forward with the pension provision intact is unclear. A staffer suggested that if the Senate passed other COLA legislation, the Sanders proposal could be amended and the provision removed, or the Senate could pass it as is.
Either way, Sanders is expected to receive pushback on his legislation from Senate Republicans, and the measure would face an uphill — if not virtually impossible — battle in the House. Republicans in both chambers are objecting to Sanders’s use of Overseas Contingency Operations funds to pay for a large chunk of the bill — which is expected to cost $24 billion.
OCO funds have been used to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and Republicans argue that with most, if not all, U.S. troops expected out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, the OCO funds — which aren’t subject to congressional budget caps — aren’t a reliable source of funding for veterans.
The Senate is expected to reconvene on Feb. 24, but it’s likely the vote to end debate on Sanders’s legislation won’t be taken up until later in the week. Senators first have to deal with a handful of nominations, a process that could be drawn out if the full debate time is used.
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"Despite pressure from the White House, House GOP leaders determined Thursday night that they didn’t have the votes to pass a rewrite of the Affordable Care Act and would not seek to put their proposal on the floor on Friday. A late push to act on health care had threatened the bipartisan deal to keep the government open for one week while lawmakers crafted a longer-term spending deal. Now, members are likely to approve the short-term spending bill when it comes to the floor and keep the government open past midnight on Friday."
President Trump’s portrayal of an effort to funnel more Medicaid dollars to Puerto Rico as a "bailout" is complicating negotiations over a continuing resolution on the budget. "House Democrats are now requiring such assistance as a condition for supporting the continuing resolution," a position that the GOP leadership is amenable to. "But Mr. Trump’s apparent skepticism aligns him with conservative House Republicans inclined to view its request as a bailout, leaving the deal a narrow path to passage in Congress."
Democrats in the House are threatening to shut down the government if Republicans expedite a vote on a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, said Democratic House Whip Steny Hoyer Thursday. Lawmakers have introduced a one-week spending bill to give themselves an extra week to reach a long-term funding deal, which seemed poised to pass easily. However, the White House is pressuring House Republicans to take a vote on their Obamacare replacement Friday to give Trump a legislative victory, though it is still not clear that they have the necessary votes to pass the health care bill. This could go down to the wire.
Members of Congress are eyeing a one-week spending bill which would keep the government open past the Friday night deadline, giving lawmakers an extra week to iron out a long-term deal to fund the government. Without any action, the government would run out of funding starting at midnight Saturday. “I am optimistic that a final funding package will be completed soon," said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.