Senate Democrats block VA funding bill

Greg Nash

Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked a bill that would fund veterans' benefits and military construction, in an effort to push Republicans to negotiate a larger budget deal.

Senators voted 50-44 on ending debate over whether to proceed to the funding bill. Sixty votes were needed.

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Democrats were expected to block the legislation as part of their push for an agreement that would roll back congressionally-mandated spending caps on both defense and non-defense spending.

"It has no chance of getting 60 votes. None. I know that. The Republican leader knows that. So why are we wasting time on votes destined to fail?" Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidSanders tests Wasserman Schultz Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate MORE (D-Nev.) said ahead of the vote.

Meanwhile, Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalDems press ITT Tech to give students right to sue Senate amendments could sink email privacy compromise Groups urge Senate to oppose defense language on for-profit colleges MORE (D-Conn.) said the bill "straight jackets" the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and "short changes" veterans.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable McConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo MORE (R-Ky.) slammed Democrats, suggesting they had flip-flopped on the legislation since it was passed out of the Appropriations Committee.

"They issued press releases praising the bill, but they seem prepared to block the Senate from even debating this bill, too," he said. "It's all part of some half-baked Democratic scheme to get more money for the IRS and the Washington bureaucracies."

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) added Democrats' blocking the bill will have "consequences" for veterans as well as active-duty troops.

"If we fail to act, it will not just be our veterans who are hurt. It will also affect our active-duty military and our national security," he added.

Sen. Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellySenators to Obama: Make 'timely' call on Afghan troops levels This week: GOP lawmakers reckon with Trump Democrats block energy spending bill over Iran amendment MORE (Ind.) was the only Democrat who voted to move forward with the VA proposal.

"Our commitment to supporting veterans should be something we can all agree on. However, we must also remember that supporting veterans and their families goes beyond the VA’s budget," Donnelly said in a statement.

"I remain hopeful that in the coming weeks members of both sides of the aisle can come together and begin the hard work of negotiating a bipartisan budget that reflects all of our country’s needs."

While Thursday is the first time McConnell has tried to move the VA funding bill, Democrats have previously twice blocked a separate defense spending bill, even as Republicans hammered them as obstructionist.

With government funding now set to expire on Dec. 11, McConnell and Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable House GOP faces dilemma on spending bills Overnight Finance: Puerto Rico bill clears panel | IRS chief vows to finish term | Bill would require nominees to release tax returns MORE have opened the door to negotiations with Democrats on a budget deal.

— This story was updated at 4:50 p.m.

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