McConnell: VA vote first, then student loans

 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday called on Democrats to “hit the pause button” on partisan legislation, such as a student loan bill, and instead immediately take up a bipartisan veterans bill.

"There’s no reason for the majority leader to prioritize partisan bills aimed at boosting Democrat turnout in November over bipartisan legislation aimed at fixing the problems at the VA," McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday.

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The Senate is scheduled to take a procedural vote Wednesday on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) S. 2432, the Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act, which would allow the nearly 40 million people with more than $1.2 trillion in student loans to refinance to today’s lower interest rates of less than 4 percent. She paid for the bill with the “Buffet Rule” — a minimum 30-percent income tax payment from people who earn between $1 million and $2 million.

That vote is expected to fail because Republicans don’t want to raise taxes on millionaires.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he would “quickly” move to vote on a bipartisan veterans bill from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) as soon as the legislative language was finalized. That bill was introduced on Monday.

“We’ll have a vote tomorrow on one of these partisan bills that’s going nowhere, while we know the Sanders-McCain bill has already been filed,” McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Congress shouldn’t keep veterans in the waiting room by putting partisan games ahead of solutions. … We’ll have plenty of time to consider bills designed to fail later.”

The Sanders-McCain bill aims to fix dysfunctions within the Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare system by holding officials accountable and providing veterans with more choices.

Sanders and McCain’s bill gives the VA secretary more flexibility to fire those involved in misconduct, authorizes construction of more than 20 VA medical facilities and uses $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses. It would establish a two-year program to allow veterans living more than 40 miles from a VA hospital to see the doctor of their choice.

The compromise on VA reform comes following the resignation of Secretary Eric Shinseki, after the agency’s inspector general confirmed charges that officials at a Phoenix clinic had lied about patient wait times. A White House-mandated audit also found fraudulent practices at a number of VA facilities around the country.

McConnell said a report Monday showing 57,000 veterans are waiting for appointments was a “national disgrace” that proved immediate action was necessary.

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