It was late February when Senate Democrats pushed a bill to expand health care and education programs for veterans. Despite having 56 votes, Dems couldn't overcome a Republican filibuster
at the time -- GOP senators not only opposed the measure, they refused to even allow the Senate to vote on it.
The effort that followed wasn't easy, a good bill had to be watered down, and the needlessly long process nearly broke down more than once, but last night the fight finally paid off
Congress proved able to address at least some of the nation's most urgent problems before leaving town on Thursday, passing legislation to reform the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs and agreeing to fund the federal highway programs. [...] After months of partisan debate, Congress managed to pass a $17 billion bipartisan bill to address mismanagement at the VA and long wait times for veterans seeking health care. Members of both parties spoke out about the need for reform, but bickering over the legislation's price tag threatened the bill's final passage.
The final vote in the Senate was 91 to 3
, while the final vote in the House was 420 to 5
. The proposal now heads to the White House, where it will get President Obama's signature.
But given the circumstances, it's hard not to wonder: why would eight members of Congress oppose a bipartisan VA bill -- in an election year -- when they knew in advance the bill would pass anyway?
In this case, all five opponents in the House were conservative Republicans and all three opponents in the Senate were also conservative Republicans. It appears the deficit was foremost on their minds
The measure survived [Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn's] effort to block it over objections the legislation would add a projected $10 billion to the deficit over a decade. "The problem is not money at the VA. The problem is management, accountability and culture," Coburn said as he insisted on his budget point of order. [Tennessee Republican Sen. Bob Corker] also issued a statement blasting the bill for adding to the deficit.
It's quite remarkable. Lawmakers were given a choice: looking out of veterans or worrying about the deficit (which is already shrinking at its fastest pace since the end of World War II). For these eight Republicans, the nation had the resources necessary to send U.S. troops into war without regard for costs or the deficit, but now a $17 billion bipartisan bill is a bridge too far.
The $17 billion will go towards medical care and hiring more medical staff to treat wounded vets. It's unclear exactly when the president will sign the bill, but I'd expect an event within the week.