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 KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns 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 TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterAnother perfect storm: Why we must act before flood insurance runs dry Democrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  GOP campaign committees call on Democrats to return Franken donations 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 IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonQuestions loom over Franken ethics probe Senate ethics panel resumes Menendez probe after judge declares mistrial Signs of progress, challenges in fighting Alzheimer's 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 ReidVirginia was a wave election, but without real change, the tide will turn again Top Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor 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 CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTexas Republicans slam White House over disaster relief request Dem rep: Trump disaster aid request is 'how you let America down again' Moore endorsements disappear from campaign website MORE (R-Texas), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate GOP running out of options to stop Moore Republicans see rising Dem odds in Alabama Cybersecurity pros take first peek at once secretive process behind US hacking toolkit MORE (R-Colo.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock Graham on Moore: 'We are about to give away a seat' key to Trump's agenda Tax plans show Congress putting donors over voters MORE (R-S.C.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerAnother perfect storm: Why we must act before flood insurance runs dry Senators introduce bipartisan gun background check bill Dem PAC bullish on Senate chances MORE (R-Nev.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCongress must end American support for Saudi war in Yemen Black men get longer prison sentences than white men for same crimes: study Sarah Palin on sexual harassment: 'People know I'm probably packing' so they 'don't mess with me' MORE (R-Ky.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCongress faces growing health care crisis in Puerto Rico The Hill's 12:30 Report Colbert mocks Trump for sipping water during speech on Asia trip MORE (R-Fla.) and David VitterDavid VitterQuestions loom over Franken ethics probe You're fired! Why it's time to ditch the Fed's community banker seat Overnight Energy: Trump set to propose sharp cuts to EPA, energy spending 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 CochranWilliam (Thad) Thad CochranTrump asks for another billion in disaster aid Congressional leaders eyeing two-year caps deal up to 0 billion Senate passes resolution requiring mandatory sexual harassment training 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.