Reid Wants to Move Forward on Veterans’ Bill Post-Recess

But the legislation faces some pushback from Senate Republicans.

Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT), listens to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar testify during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on May 18, 2010 in Washington, DC. The committee is hearing testimony about the accident involving the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded and is now leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
National Journal
Feb. 13, 2014, 6:11 a.m.

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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