By Ramsey Cox
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture Wednesday on legislation that would expand veterans healthcare programs and provide them with tuition assistance, a move that signals he will not allow any GOP amendments to be considered.
At the beginning of the week, Reid said he would allow amendments but none that were unrelated to the bill.
The first amendment Republicans filed was an alternative measure providing benefits to veterans that also included language imposing sanctions on Iran.
The Senate is expected to vote Thursday on whether to waive a budget point of order against the nearly $23 billion bill and then will proceed to a cloture vote — which will require 60 senators to advance to final passage.
It’s unlikely that enough Republicans will join Democrats to advance the bill, since none of their amendments were allowed.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said it was necessary to include the Iran sanctions measure in his GOP alternative because Reid had refused to hold a separate vote. Republicans also disagreed with the way the veterans bill was paid for.
Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) bill, S. 1982, would boost veterans' healthcare programs, give veterans in-state tuition rates at all schools across the country and provide advanced appropriations for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
It also seeks to permanently fix a cut to the growth rate of veterans' pensions. Earlier this year, Congress passed a bill to avoid a cut in the growth rate for current service members and veterans, but anyone enlisting after 2013 would still see a cut. Sanders’s bill would eliminate that cut as well.
He paid for the bill by limiting overseas contingency funds from 2018-2021.
Republicans have said the early troop withdrawals in Afghanistan and Iraq have overextended funds in the Overseas Contingency Operations account. They argue it’s not a real pay-for because those funds are essentially “off budget” and not subject to discretionary spending caps.
Reid also received unanimous consent to call up two competing military sexual assault bills from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) at a time to be determined by the leaders.
Gillibrand’s bill has bipartisan support but is controversial because it would remove commanders from the decision process of whether to pursue a sexual assault case.