Senate GOP backtracks after veterans bill firestorm

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declined to answer a question on Monday about why the legislation was blocked.

“It will pass this week,” he said.

Other Republicans leading the Senate have taken a similar tone. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) Told POLITICO he would “expect it to pass” and the senator. John Thune (RS.D.), McConnell’s No. 2, echoed that “at some point it’s going to pass and it’ll pass big.”

Republicans say they blocked the bill because of concerns expressed by the senator. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on what the incumbent senator called a “budget trick” — language he says could allow some funds to be used for programs unrelated to veterans’ health care. This language was in the bill when it was initially passed by the Senate in an 84-14 vote, before a technical glitch forced the chamber to vote again.

“This thing got drugs out, but remember why it got drugs out. When they passed it here the first time, they did it wrong,” Thune said, adding that it was the Democrats who “screwed it up the first time.”

Schumer is expected to force another vote on the veterans bill this week, vowing on Monday he would raise it “in the coming days.”

“We’re going to give Senate Republicans another chance to do the right thing,” he said.

The New York Democrat will likely give Republicans an exit ramp by giving Toomey a vote on his proposed amendment, which the Pennsylvania Republican and many of his colleagues say he has been asking for months.

“The ball is in the leader’s court and I haven’t heard what he has decided to do…we weren’t told an amendment vote was expected. Hopefully that will happen” , Toomey said on Monday.

The amendment’s explanation did little to curb Democratic accusations that the GOP turned an uncontroversial plan to help veterans exposed to Agent Orange and toxic burning fireplaces into a football Politics. Democrats strongly questioned the U-turn given that 25 Republicans voted to block the bill on the budget issue only on its second trip to the floor, not its first.

“I’m doing everything I can,” Sen said. Jon Tester (D-Mont.). “I do not know [if] people really understand what they voted on, to be honest with you. There is no slush fund in there.

Crucially, even if Toomey gets a vote, his amendment is unlikely to have enough support to ultimately be included – leaving Republicans with the same veterans bill most of them voted to block last week. . And some still say they are unwilling to kill legislation because of the pressure of amendments.

“If I’m lucky enough to vote for an amendment, I might vote for the amendment, but I want to make sure the bill doesn’t get killed,” the senator said. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who added that he generally agreed with Toomey’s concern. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) also said he broadly supports the amendment.

Still, Toomey tried to rally his colleagues behind holding the veterans bill in private conference meetings; Republicans say Democrats promised an amendment vote on his concerns in June, only to return later.

Those disputes largely escaped the radar until last week, when the bill crashed to the ground. Groups of veterans’ advocates had flown to Washington hoping to celebrate the final passage — instead, it became a press conference to denounce the GOP senators who held him back.

“As someone who’s worked on this bill for years, I’m just disappointed that some of my Republican colleagues, whether out of personal spite or misguided political motives … wanted to turn around. But so many that it’s about the right outcome, that’s what’s important for the country and for veterans,” the senator said. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

The criticisms have not stopped this week.

Comedian Jon Stewart – rallying around veterans who camped outside the Senate for days – slammed Republicans on Monday for slowing passage of the bill.

“I’m not afraid of you and I don’t care, because those are the people I owe a debt of gratitude to,” Stewart said. “Don’t leave here tonight until you’ve done the right thing for these people. It’s as simple as that: don’t make things harder than they are. »

Katherine Tully-McManus contributed to this report.

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