Sanders said he talked to Reid this morning and said the Democratic leader “wants to see this bill get up to the floor of the Senate as quickly as he possibly can.”
He acknowledged that the bill won’t get 100 percent bipartisan support, though he has the impression right now that “virtually all of the Democratic caucus” will be on board, as well as an unknown number of Republicans. Sanders stressed that the legislation includes provisions that have been introduced by GOP members, including Veterans Affairs Committee members Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and John Bozeman (R-Ark.).
“All of the Republicans as well as Democrats feel very strongly about veterans’ needs,” Sanders said.
And that should garner at least tepid support for the bill heading into a debate process. Though the expansive legislation, including many provisions that veterans groups testifying before Congress have asked for, has something for everyone, the greatest dilemma facing the most ardent supporters of men and women in uniform will be the pay-for.
“This is an expensive program, but Reid sees addressing many, many important issues facing the veterans community as a very high priority,” Sanders said. “These are ideas that these men and women have been talking about for years.”
The senator said the funding source is not completely up to him, and a “definitive decision” has not been made — though he expressed a desire to skim off the Overseas Contingency Operations fund as the war in Afghanistan winds down and funding exceeds current Congressional Budget Office estimates. “The final decision of the pay-for is not mine alone,” he added, noting the OCO is “a reasonable source.”
The second half of the 113th Congress could also see a battle of the veterans’ bills, as Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) plans to unveil his own “historic, comprehensive” veterans legislation Thursday at an American Legion post. Blumenthal’s office said his bill would “reduce the disability claims backlog, restore retirement benefits, improve health care services, and prevent discrimination against veterans among other reforms.”
Sanders said he’s just starting to reach out to colleagues on both sides of the aisle about supporting his bill. The senator lauded the work that Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) has done at the helm of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, adding, “I’m optimistic we can work with our friends in the House.”
“Yeah, it costs money — but these are provisions that are sensible provisions,” and something to which veterans are entitled, Sanders said. “I think the majority of the American people would agree with me.”