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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 Steven KirkThis week: Trump heads to Capitol Hill Trump attending Senate GOP lunch Tuesday High stakes as Trump heads to Hill 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) TesterThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia Trump adds campaign stops for Senate candidates in Montana, Arizona, Nevada Democrats hold fading odds of winning Senate this November 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 IsaksonHouse conservatives want ethics probe into Dems' handling of Kavanaugh allegations Senate eyes Kavanaugh floor vote next week Trump blasts Tester at Montana rally: 'He loves the swamp' 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 Mason ReidSenate heads home to campaign after deal on Trump nominees GOP has always been aggressive in trying to weaponize the system of judicial nominations Republicans come full circle with Supreme Court battle to the end 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 CruzBeto O'Rourke will not share million he raised with other Dem Senate candidates Election Countdown: Cruz, O'Rourke fight at pivotal point | Ryan hitting the trail for vulnerable Republicans | Poll shows Biden leading Dem 2020 field | Arizona Senate debate tonight Donald Trump Jr. blasts Beto O’Rourke: ‘Irish guy pretending to be Hispanic’ MORE (R-Texas), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerDemocrats must end mob rule GOP senators praise Haley as 'powerful' and 'unafraid' Democrats won’t let Kavanaugh debate die MORE (R-Colo.), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamBrunson release spotlights the rot in Turkish politics and judiciary Saudi Arabia, Turkey to form joint investigation into Khashoggi disappearance Democrats must end mob rule MORE (R-S.C.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerObama to speak at campaign rally for Nevada Dems Poll shows Heller with 7-point lead in Nevada The Hill's Morning Report — Presented by the Coalition for Affordable Prescription Drugs — Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Florida, Georgia MORE (R-Nev.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulNoisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children? Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks Five things to watch for in deteriorating US-Saudi relations MORE (R-Ky.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioDating app for Trump supporters leaked its users data on launch day: report Overnight Defense: Trump says 'rogue killers' could be behind missing journalist | Sends Pompeo to meet Saudi king | Saudis may claim Khashoggi killed by accident | Ex-VA chief talks White House 'chaos' | Most F-35s cleared for flight Democrats torch Trump for floating 'rogue killers' to blame for missing journalist MORE (R-Fla.) and David VitterDavid Bruce VitterSenate panel advances Trump nominee who wouldn't say if Brown v. Board of Education was decided correctly Planned Parenthood targets judicial nominee over abortion comments Trump nominates wife of ex-Louisiana senator to be federal judge 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 CochranThe Hill's Morning Report — Kavanaugh ordeal thrusts FBI into new political jam GOP Senate candidate to African Americans: Stop begging for 'government scraps' Trump endorses Hyde-Smith in Mississippi Senate race 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.