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 way forward on the Iran nuclear deal under President Trump ObamaCare repeal bill would defund Planned Parenthood Leaked ObamaCare bill would defund Planned Parenthood 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 TesterDems hunt for a win in Montana special election Tester raises M for reelection The Hill's 12:30 Report 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 IsaksonGeorgia campaigns keep up pressure ahead of runoff vote Medicare’s coverage decisions need more input from physicians Five takeaways from the Georgia special election 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 ReidWeek ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Warren builds her brand with 2020 down the road 'Tuesday Group' turncoats must use recess to regroup on ObamaCare 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 CruzGeorgia campaigns keep up pressure ahead of runoff vote Week ahead in tech: Trump's antitrust pick heads before Senate Week ahead: Senate panel to vote on Trump's FDA pick MORE (R-Texas), Cory GardnerCory GardnerPicking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Taiwan deserves to participate in United Nations Reversal: Some Republicans now defending parts of ObamaCare MORE (R-Colo.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamFive key moments from Trump's first 100 days GOP senator: There will never be full U.S.-Mexico border wall The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-S.C.), Dean HellerDean HellerWeek ahead: House to revive Yucca Mountain fight Obama-linked group launches ads targeting Republicans on immigration Nevada Dem rep considering Senate run against Heller MORE (R-Nev.), Rand PaulRand PaulWe can put America first by preventing public health disasters Conservative activists want action from Trump McConnell: 'Big challenge' to pass ObamaCare repeal in Senate MORE (R-Ky.), Marco RubioMarco RubioTop Trump officials push border wall as government shutdown looms Rubio defends Trump: 'This whole flip-flop thing is a political thing' Rubio: Shutdown would have 'catastrophic impact' on global affairs MORE (R-Fla.) and David VitterDavid VitterFormer senator who crafted chemicals law to lobby for chemicals industry Former GOP rep joins K Street lobbying firm Capitol Counsel Lobbying World 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 CochranPicking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Overnight Defense: FBI chief confirms Trump campaign, Russia probe | Senators push for Afghan visas | Problems persist at veterans' suicide hotline Senators ask to include visas for Afghans in spending bill 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.