Reid sets up veterans bill, judicial nominee votes

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) set up a procedural vote to end debate on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) omnibus veterans bill for when the Senate returns from recess in more than a week.

Sanders’ bill is a nearly $20 billion measure that tackles an array of veterans’ issues, such as improving veterans healthcare programs, giving veterans in-state tuition at any public university and providing advanced appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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Sanders’ bill also included a fix to the $6 billion military pension cuts, but Congress partially addressed that issue earlier Wednesday on a 95-3 vote.

S. 1982 is paid for by using funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that won’t be used. Republicans have expressed skepticism about using the Afghanistan and Iraq funds — which are essentially “off budget” and not subject to discretionary spending caps — and are working to propose a GOP alternative as an amendment.

But that vote won’t occur until after the Senate deals with pending judicial nominations.

Reid also filed cloture on four judicial nominations to courts in Arkansas, Connecticut and California. He had to file cloture on those nominees because Republicans refused to confirm them en bloc.

Republicans have complained that Reid used the “nuclear option” to unilaterally change the Senate filibuster rules. Democrats can now end debate on most executive and judicial nominees with a simple majority vote instead of the 60 needed before.

“Our friends on the other side of the aisle invoked the nuclear option. … Now the Majority Leader would like to short circuit the process put into place by the nuclear option,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said when objecting to Reid’s unanimous consent request. “My preference is that he reverse partisan rule change.”

Republicans will likely drag out debate time on those nominees as well, meaning the Senate will spend most of its first week back from a recess — starting Feb. 24 —working through the nominations before getting to Sanders’ bill.

A list of those nominees follows:

- Jeffrey Meyer to be U.S. District Judge for the District of Connecticut.

- James Maxwell Moody, Jr., to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

- James Donato to be U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California.

- Beth Labson Freeman to be U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California.