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 KirkThe Hill's 12:30 Report Trump, judges on collision course GOP senator: Don't link Planned Parenthood to ObamaCare repeal 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 TesterGOP loses top Senate contenders Senate advances Trump's Commerce pick Schumer tries to keep the peace as Sanders speaks out 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 unveil bill to give Congress control of consumer bureau budget Oprah's network provides Senate with tape of abuse allegations by Puzder's ex-wife: report Battle over Trump nominees shifts to new target 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 ReidIf Gorsuch pick leads to 'crisis,' Dems should look in mirror first Senate confirms Mulvaney to be Trump’s budget chief Democrats declare victory after Puzder bows out 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 CruzTrump to speak at CPAC Trump to interview four candidates for national security adviser Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at CPAC MORE (R-Texas), Cory GardnerCory GardnerAngst in GOP over Trump's trade agenda GOP loses top Senate contenders Graham: Ryan tax plan won’t get 10 votes in the Senate MORE (R-Colo.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTrump’s feud with the press in the spotlight Senators eye new sanctions against Iran Republicans play clean up on Trump's foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.), Dean HellerDean HellerPlanned Parenthood targets GOP lawmakers amid ObamaCare protests Overnight Finance: Fed chief tries to stay above partisan fray | Bill would eliminate consumer agency | Trump signs repeal of SEC rule on foreign payments Fed chief looks to stay above partisan fray in Trump era MORE (R-Nev.), Rand PaulRand PaulTrump’s feud with the press in the spotlight Rand Paul: We’re very lucky John McCain’s not in charge Rand Paul: John Bolton would be a 'bad choice' for national security adviser MORE (R-Ky.), Marco RubioMarco RubioGOP loses top Senate contenders How does placing sanctions on Russia help America? Republicans play clean up on Trump's foreign policy MORE (R-Fla.) and David VitterDavid VitterMercury brings on former Sen. Vitter, two others Lobbying World Bottom Line 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 CochranMulvaney sworn in as White House budget chief Senate confirms Mulvaney to be Trump’s budget chief McCain announces opposition to Trump's pick for budget chief 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.