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Senate passes VA spending bill — just in time for Veterans day

Senate passes VA spending bill — just in time for Veterans day
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The Senate on Tuesday passed a fiscal year 2016 funding bill for veterans' benefits and military construction, making it the first spending bill to clear the upper chamber this year.

Senators voted 93-0 on the legislation after lawmakers reached an agreement to wrap up work on the proposal before Veterans Day.

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“Today the Senate put our veterans first,” said Sen. Mark KirkMark KirkJuan Williams: McConnell won big by blocking Obama Battle for the Senate: Top of ticket dominates The untold stories of the 2016 battle for the Senate MORE (R-Ill.), who is up for reelection in 2016 and took a leading role on the legislation.

“With $1.1 billion in funding for veterans' care above the President’s request and special protections for whistleblowers like doctors and nurses who speak up to protect our vets, I am proud we found a bipartisan path forward.”

The Senate spending bill provides $79.7 billion in discretionary funding for military construction and veterans programs, approximately $7.9 billion above the previous fiscal year spending levels.

Passage of the legislation comes after the bill overcame a procedural hurdle late last week, effectively ending a logjam on spending votes in the Senate.

Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterDem senator to introduce 'drain the swamp' bill Red-state Dems face tough votes on Trump picks Montana Republican warns of Senate challenge to Tester MORE (D-Mont.) urged his colleagues ahead of the vote to support the legislation, suggesting it was crucial to helping fix the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

"If we're going to fix the access problems, if we're going to serve our veterans in the way they need to be served, we need to pass this bill," he said, adding that he hoped the vote would be "unanimous because this is an important bill."

Senators lined up on the floor before Tuesday's vote to support the legislation, a marked shift from the largely partisan fighting that has surrounded spending bills so far this year.

"I want to encourage everyone in the Senate to vote favorably," Sen. Johnny IsaksonJohnny IsaksonGOP senators wary of nuking filibuster SENATE: Republicans defy odds to keep majority A banner year for U.S. leadership on aid effectiveness MORE (R-Ga.), who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said ahead of the vote.

"But I want everybody to stop and take a deep breath and think about three things: Number one, today is the 240th anniversary of the United States Marine Corps. … Tomorrow at 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month we celebrate the soldiers of World War I in the United States of America, and today in the United States Senate we're fixing problems that confront our veterans." 

Democrats originally blocked the legislation when it came before the Senate earlier this year as part of a push to get a two-year budget deal. Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidStaff shakeup begins at Dem campaign committee The Hill's 12:30 Report Emanuel flips the bird when asked about 2020 MORE (D-Nev.) suggested earlier Tuesday that Democrats deserve the credit over the extra veterans’ funding.

“The veterans have $2 billion more than they would have had we followed the Republicans’ lead, $2 billion more," he added. "So we’re satisfied this bill is a good bill, and it’s a good bill because veterans are getting $2 billion more."

Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzCruz, DeSantis to introduce constitutional amendment on term limits Fiorina to meet with Trump on Monday Trump picks Goldman Sachs chief for top economic adviser: report MORE (R-Texas), Cory GardnerCory GardnerMcConnell huddles with GOP rep to discuss possible ND Senate opening GOP senator: Congress will ‘undo the damage’ from Obama Senate GOP to Obama: Stop issuing new rules MORE (R-Colo.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenators move to protect 'Dreamers' The Hill's 12:30 Report White House orders intelligence report of election cyberattacks MORE (R-S.C.), Dean HellerDean HellerReid bids farewell to the Senate Reid defends relationship with McConnell in farewell speech Governments and businesses: Teaming up for taxpayers MORE (R-Nev.), Rand PaulRand PaulTrump stumps for Louisiana Senate candidate ahead of runoff Giuliani won't serve in Trump administration Will justice in America be Trumped? MORE (R-Ky.), Marco RubioMarco RubioWhat Trump's Cabinet picks reveal House passes water bill with Flint aid, drought relief What the 2016 election can tell us about 2018 midterms MORE (R-Fla.) and David VitterDavid VitterTrump questions merits of early voting WATCH LIVE: Trump speaks at GOP rally in La. Poll: Republican holds 14-point lead in Louisiana Senate runoff MORE (R-La.) missed the vote.

Cruz, Paul and Rubio are running for president and slated to appear at Tuesday night’s Republican debate in Milwaukee.

Graham is also running for the White House, but did not qualify for the debate.

Senators still need to reach an agreement on veterans and military construction spending with the House. 

Sen. Thad CochranThad CochranGOP senators voice misgivings about short-term spending bill Trump's wrong to pick Bannon or Sessions for anything Bottom Line MORE (R-Miss.) said that senators “look forward to working with the House to finish work on this important bill to provide the necessary resources to improve veterans’ healthcare, benefit claims processing and medical research.”

— This story was updated at 1:49 p.m.