The Senate fight over veterans’ benefits is about to begin in earnest, and it’s about to get ugly.
The Senate on Monday will take an initial procedural vote on legislation from Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas that would restore $6 billion in funding to working-age military retirees. The benefits were cut as part of December’s bipartisan budget deal, but the reductions sparked a massive political backlash, leaving lawmakers rushing to reverse them.
But while top Democrats are hoping to move Pryor’s measure, they’re assuming it will fail to get the 60 votes needed to clear cloture, according to a senior party aide. His bill measure lacks a way to offset the benefits cost, and for Senate Republicans, that’s a fatal flaw.
Democrats, however, have an alternative option for when Pryor’s proposal falls: a separate, broader bill from Bernie Sanders of Vermont that would not only reverse the $6 billion in benefits but also expand access to other veterans’ benefits, such as health care and education. Sanders’s bill would cost $24 billion; the measure would offset $20 billion of that by taking money from the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund, a pool of money for the Afghan and Iraq wars that is exempt from Congress’s self-imposed budget-cap laws. The other $4 billion, Sanders said, would come from other funds under the committee’s jurisdiction.
But that mechanism won’t pass muster with Republicans, either, who argue that it’s an end-run around budget rules and does not represent real-life fiscal discipline. And so Sanders’s bill faces long odds in the Senate and has virtually zero chance of passing the House.
“The pay-for has turned out to be more of a sticking point than I thought,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. “Much as I would like to solve the COLA problem, I’m not willing to add to the national debt.”
So why are Democrats teeing up a string of bills they know won’t pass?
Obviously, they — like Republicans — want to undo the pension cuts, and these proposals represent their preferred method for doing it.
But Democrats are also interested in forcing the GOP to continually vote down veterans’ funding, seeking to harness the maelstrom raised by the cuts and steer it toward their rivals.
Republicans, for their part, argue they’re the ones who are sincere about repealing the cuts — they just won’t sacrifice budget discipline to do it. “As I’m sure you know, Democrats are a little late to this effort. Republicans have multiple bills that would fix the COLA problem without adding to the deficit,” said an aide to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte wants to tie reversing the cuts to stopping what she views as tax fraud. The New Hampshire Republican’s plan aims to bring in $20 billion by making it harder for some — namely, undocumented immigrants — to claim a child tax credit.
Sen. Richard Burr is pushing a broader veterans’ benefits package similar to Sanders’s, but the North Carolina Republican’s measure would likely use Ayotte’s funding mechanism.
Democrats, meanwhile, have their own budget-neutral alternatives — albeit ones that Republicans will likely find unpalatable.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Dan Maffei have introduced legislation in their respective chambers to swap the roughly $6 billion in cuts with closing a tax loophole for offshore corporations.
In the middle is Sen. John McCain, who is still eyeing the $550 billion National Defense Authorization Act as the most likely vehicle. Congress always manages to pass the yearly spending vehicle, which McCain sees as large enough to provide ample opportunities to offset the cost.
What We're Following See More »
Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is expected to plead guilty to a raft of new tax and fraud charges filed against him by special counsel Robert Mueller on Thursday. Gates is expected to cooperate with Mueller's investigation.
Robert Mueller announced new charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort advisor Rick Gates. "The new indictment contains 32 counts, including tax charges." The pair had been indicted on 12 charges in October. Since then, Gates's attorneys have asked to be excused from the case.
The FBI has reported that it failed to respond to a warning from "a person close to" Nikolas Cruz, the teen accused of killing 17 people at Parkland High School on Thursday. "It was the second time the FBI apparently failed to follow up on Cruz." On the first occasion, it failed to properly investigate Cruz after it was reported to them that he left the following comment on a Youtube video: "Im going to be a school shooter."
Florida Governor Rick Scott called on FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign following revelations that the FBI had failed to adequately investigate multiple warnings about Parkland High School gunman Nikolas Cruz. “The FBI’s failure to take action against this killer is unacceptable,'" said Scott. '...We constantly promote ‘see something, say something,’ and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act.'" According to an FBI statement, the FBI failed to inform local offices of information regarding "Cruz's desire to kill people, erratic behavior, disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting."