One of the most important congressional votes of the year was held three months ago, though most of the political world didn’t even notice. There will be a similar vote next week, and chances are excellent that this one won’t be ignored.
In late February, Senate Democrats pushed a bill on expanded veterans’ benefits. It would have expanded VA health care access, tuition assistance, and job training, and the legislation’s sponsors, led by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), were optimistic about its chances.
Their hopes were misplaced. Despite majority support and the backing of major veterans’ organizations, Senate Republicans wouldn’t even allow a vote. A filibuster from the GOP minority killed the bill, insisting Democrats hadn’t done enough to ensure the bill was paid for – because helping veterans matters, but making sure the deficit isn’t slightly larger really matters.
“I hope all the veterans groups have witnessed all the contortions the Republicans have done to defeat this bill,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at the time. “Shame on Republicans for bringing base politics into a bill to help veterans.”
That was three months ago, and because the Beltway press didn’t much seem to care about the bill, Republicans paid no price for blocking the veterans-aid bill. As Rachel noted on the show last night, however, the GOP minority will have a second bite at the apple.
“As the V.A. wait time scandal continues to unfold, and as Republicans increasingly try to turn it to partisan purposes now, to try to use it as an election issue, these 41 Republican senators who all voted against veterans’ health care just a few weeks ago, they’re about to get a chance to get their money and their mouths more closely aligned than they are right now, because the senator who introduced the veterans bill that the Republicans filibustered in February, Senator Sanders, he says he is going to bring the veterans’ health bill back up again next week. So, all 41 Republican senators who voted to filibuster veterans health care before, oh, too expensive. They’re about to now have another chance to decide if the treatment of veterans is something they actually want to fix, or if instead it’s something that they don’t to fix because they’d rather complain and showboat about it and just hope that their own votes on the subject don’t damn them with the blame.“The bill drops in the Senate next week. And if we believe our own passion that rhetoric that doing right by veterans is a moral imperative, and a clarion responsibility, then that vote is going to be the kind of vote that people will not only remember, it will be the kind of vote that follows senators around for the rest of their careers, and if there is any justice in the world, through the rest of their lives.”
It’s not altogether clear what Republicans intend to do about it.
If it’s the exact same bill as the one they killed three months ago, how exactly will Republicans explain a change of heart? For that matter, will they even have a change of heart, or will they once again filibuster the legislation?
In February, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said the bill had “good elements,” but he was principally concerned with the “cost issue.” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said the efforts to help veterans “cost more than our kids can afford.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) argued against the proposal by saying, “We are $17 trillion in debt.”
All three were among the 41 GOP senators responsible for killing the bill.
But three months later, politicians seem a little more eager to stand on the side of veterans. Next week’s vote will be well worth watching.