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Veterans bill on pathway for passage

A $17 billion bill to revamp the Veterans Affairs Department appears likely to clear both the House and Senate this week.

While a handful of Republicans in both chambers have raised objections, lawmakers said the legislation is on a path for passage despite the fact that it would add $12 billion to the deficit.

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“I’m sure there are going to be some that are going to oppose it because it’s not totally offset. That’s their prerogative,” said Sen. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrOvernight Finance: Senate rejects Trump immigration plan | U.S. Bancorp to pay 0M in fines for lacking money laundering protections | Cryptocurrency market overcharges users | Prudential fights to loosen oversight Senators introduce bill to help businesses with trade complaints Our intelligence chiefs just want to tell the truth about national security MORE (N.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The bill’s going to pass in the House. The bill’s going to pass in the Senate.”

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff MillerJefferson (Jeff) Bingham MillerTime is now for VA Accountability Act GOP chairman: VA faces 'enormous challenges' one year after scandal House passes bill to rescind VA bonuses MORE (R-Fla.) predicted a majority of his conference will support the bill when it comes up for a vote on Wednesday.

His Senate counterpart, Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee 2020 Dem contenders travel to key primary states After Florida school shooting, vows for change but no clear path forward MORE (I-Vt.) said the upper chamber could vote on the legislation as soon as Wednesday but that Thursday was more likely.

Heritage Action put out a statement criticizing the bill, but a spokesman said it was unclear if the group would include the vote on its legislative scorecard. The Club for Growth did not put out a statement on the bill.

Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnPaul Ryan should realize that federal earmarks are the currency of cronyism Republicans in Congress shouldn't try to bring back earmarks Republicans should know reviving earmarks is a political nightmare MORE (R-Okla.) said he would vote no.

“I’m not going to support it,” the deficit hawk told The Hill. He said the problem isn’t the money, but that VA physicians see about half the number of patients on a daily basis as those in private practice.

“It’s about utilization of resources and management,” he said.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCongress punts fight over Dreamers to March Drama surrounding Shulkin — what is the future of VA health care? Blackburn pushes back on potential Corker bid: 'I'm going to win' MORE (R-Tenn.), one of three GOP lawmakers who voted against the VA overhaul when it came up in the Senate last month, said he “can’t imagine the bill’s been constructed in such a way that I can support it.”

He said he was worried a provision in the bill that allows veterans the choice of getting private care in certain situations, which is supposed to sunset after three years, would instead “go on forever.”

That would mean a “massive amount of money down the road,” he said.

Still, many lawmakers are likely to be reluctant to oppose any bill granting healthcare to veterans.

The bill includes $10 billion to allow veterans to get private care and another $5 billion for the department to hire additional medical staff.

Corker and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said the bill should be scored by the Congressional Budget Office before Senators vote.

“It’s bad policy for this Congress to jam bills through with serious budget problems without opportunity for the member to fully understand what’s at stake,” Sessions said.

But he declined to say whether he would vote against the bill on the Senate floor.

Other Republicans who have criticized the VA healthcare system in the past indicated they would support the measure.

“There are some things I probably don’t like, but what I like about is it will give veterans an option,” said Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.).

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the spending was justified to help veterans.

“They can make their own defense, and I won’t try to defend it or speak for them,” he said of opponents. “If veterans dying is not an emergency and a rationale for emergency spending then I don’t know what emergency spending is.”

This story was updated at 7:01 p.m.