Vets groups slam Senate ‘shenanigans’ as bill stalls

Veterans groups blasted the Senate on Thursday as a large veterans bill was blocked over a partisan dispute on amendments.

The Senate voted 56-41 on a motion to end debate on the measure, as Republicans blocked the bill from getting the 60 votes needed to move forward.

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The bill would have expanded healthcare and education programs for veterans, but Republicans blocked it in part because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) would not allow a vote on an alternative measure that included new Iran sanctions. They also objected to paying for the legislation through war funding.

Veterans groups who had supported the veterans package criticized the “shenanigans” and gridlock that stalled another Senate bill.

“Republicans blame Democrats. Democrats blame Republicans. And veterans are caught in the crossfire,” Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) CEO Paul Rieckhoff said in a statement. “Veterans don’t have time for this nonsense. And veterans are tired of being used as political chew toys.”

American Legion National Commander Daniel Dellinger laid the blame with Republicans, saying the impasse was similar to last year’s government shutdown.

“Today, the Senate had a chance to put aside partisan politics and do what was right for the men and women who have sacrificed so much while wearing our nation’s uniform," Dellinger said in a statement. "Instead, we saw the same political gamesmanship that led our federal government to a shutdown last fall. There was a right way to vote and a wrong way to vote today, and 41 senators chose the wrong way. That’s inexcusable."

Veterans groups have had their issues with Congress and the Obama administration over the past several months, particularly after the budget deal that quickly passed both chambers included a $6 billion cut to military retirement pay.

That reduction was reversed earlier this month amid heavy political pressure.

But veterans advocates have since taken issue with the 2015 Pentagon budget — previewed early this week — with benefits reductions including healthcare fee increases, commissary cuts and capped pay raises.

“It has been a winter of discontent,” Rieckhoff said.

In the aftermath of the vote on Sanders’s bill, both parties blamed the other for standing in the way of the legislation.

“I resent very much the implication that this was political,” Sanders said at a press conference after the vote.

“Whatever your views are, [Iran sanctions] just does not belong in a veterans bill,” he said. “And I think the vast majority of the American people understand that. I found it rather incredible.”

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said Reid was to blame for refusing to allow amendments.

‘“Majority Leader Reid has again failed to work with Republican senators on a critical bill, this time one that would address several of the problems currently plaguing our veteran community,” Inhofe said in a statement.