Senate votes to take up Veterans Affairs spending bill

In winning a procedural motion, the Senate overcame opposition led by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee. He argued that it was improper for the Senate to take up appropriations work without first passing a budget. 

Republican Sens. Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Ron Johnson (Wis.), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and David Vitter (La.) followed Sessions in trying to derail the measure. 

In June, the House approved the same legislation in a 411-5 vote. 

In filing cloture on the bill last week, Reid cited a "good conversation" he had had with his GOP counterpart, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and said he enjoyed the support of the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee as well.

“Hopefully we can show the country that we can work though an appropriations bill without getting bogged down,” Reid said, referencing the difficulties the Senate has had in moving any legislation this year.

Sessions took to the floor to announce that he would force a symbolic vote to object to the fact that the Senate is proceeding to a 2012 appropriations bill without ever having adopted a budget. 

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has developed a budget resolution that can pass his committee but has not tried to move it. It contains $2 trillion in revenue increases that give some Democrats heartburn. The top-line spending number in the end will be decided by White House-led negotiations over the deficit. 

Sessions said he would use a point of order called for in the budget act that would force 50 senators to agree to proceed to an appropriations bill in the absence of an budget.

The Military Construction bill is in itself relatively noncontroversial. The Senate Appropriations and House Appropriations bills differ little in their substance.

The White House on Wednesday outlined some objections to the bill. 

It says that one provision in the bill could be construed to mean the president must notify Congress 30 days in advance of military exercises. The White House says this provision appears to violate the Constitution's granting of commander-in-chief powers to the executive branch.

The White House also said that it is worried about cuts to basing expenses in Bahrain and Guam because it could send a signal to Japan that the U.S. is not going to make good on a commitment to remove U.S. troops from a controversial base at Okinawa. 

The bill spends $72 billion in discretionary funds, a cut of $618 million below current levels and $1.25 billion below President Obama’s budget request.

The Senate bill contains $58.6 billion for VA discretionary funding, an increase of $2.3 billion.