Before passing the bill, senators voted 75-19 to turn aside objections to its cost raised by Republican Jeff Sessions of Alabama. "I feel strongly we've got to do the right thing for our veterans. But I don't think we should create a blank check, an unlimited entitlement program, now," Sessions said.
Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) were the only senators in the chamber to vote against a bipartisan veterans' benefits bill this week. The Veterans of Foreign Wars weren't impressed.
Indeed, the VFW yesterday criticized the conservative Republicans, saying they "put dollars and cents above the interests of the nation's veterans."
And though they wouldn't use those words, it would seem even the GOP senators themselves would agree. The Congressional Budget Office issued a report this week that the bipartisan VA bill would be quite expensive -- the private-provider provision demanded by John McCain pushed the cost of the package to about $35 billion over the next 10 years -- and the balking Republican lawmakers said they simply didn't want to spend the money, at least not without more offsets.
So, on the one hand, politicians routinely say the nation must do "whatever it takes" to care for our veterans. On the other hand, here are three conservative Republicans effectively arguing, "But let's not go overboard."
Whether or not one agrees with Sessions is a matter of perspective.
The Alabama senator, for example, is against creating "an unlimited entitlement program." In theory, that's understandable, but the program already exists -- the nation has made a commitment to those who wear the uniform, guaranteeing that they're "entitled" to quality care after they serve. This week's legislation doesn't "create" something new so much as it "adds to" a framework that's already in place.
But Sessions is also worried about writing "a blank check." He shouldn't be. We're the wealthiest nation on the planet and we've sent a lot of our own to fight in some wars. At what point do the politicians who approved of their deployment declare, "We've spent enough on veterans' care. Good luck to you"?
Finally, senators will be voting this year on extending billions of dollars in tax breaks without paying for them. I'll be paying particular attention to how these three vote. I have a hunch the VFW will, too.