“We’re going to do the right things for the veterans of America,” GOP Senator Jeff Sessions stated after voting against a bill enhancing benefits for 22 million veterans and their families. I can only imagine coal is a requested gift in the Sessions household at Christmas.
At this point, watching a Tea Party-supported politician praise our nation’s veterans while using them as political pawns is nothing new.
Just last October, Tea Party poster boy Ted Cruz told a group of veterans gathered at the closed World War II Memorial: “Our veterans should be above politics.” Of course, the Texas Senator failed to add that the site was closed due to a government shutdown he had initiated and supported in an attempt to defund a national law.
It should come as no surprise that Cruz joined Sessions among 39 other Republicans to block the S. 1982 Benefits Bill.
Introduced by Vermont Independent Senator and Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, Bernie Sanders, the bill included the following provisions:
- Allow access to in-state tuition rates in public colleges and universities for post-9/11 veterans.
- Expand aid to relatives assisting wounded veterans serving before the 9/11 attacks.
- Open over 20 new VA clinics.
- Offer the VA more tools to process its current backlog of benefits.
- Provide adoption services or fertility counseling to wounded veterans who can’t conceive.
Thanks to a GOP filibuster last Thursday, the bill required 60 votes to pass the Senate. It failed in a final vote tally of 56-41 in favor. Only two Republican senators, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Dean Heller of Nebraska, were able to find their souls in time for the vote, breaking rank and joining Democrats in support of the bill.
Sanders covered a portion of the bill’s costs with savings from the VA, while the majority would come from unspent funds from the Overseas Contingency Operations campaign. To put Sanders’ spending plan into perspective, the $21 billion dollars used to fund the veterans’ benefits bill would only account for 2.1% of spending from the OCO. However, this was a major sticking point for Senate Republicans.
“We’re not going to use some bogus gimmick to justify busting the budget,” Sen. Sessions responded to Sanders’ spending plan.
I can’t even pretend to understand Sessions’ thought process at this point, but we could easily find another avenue to support this bill (and our veterans) without adding an additional dime to the deficit over the same ten-year time frame in Sanders’ plan.
In 2012, Senate Republicans blocked a measure that would have ended $2 billion dollars a year in tax breaks for the oil companies. The vote was 51-47 in favor, but failed due to a filibuster enacted by the GOP (sound familiar?).
Exxon Mobil alone earned $44.9 billion in profits for 2012. Poor deprived bastards.
Republicans also took issue that they could not amend the bill to include sanctions against Iran, which is currently in international negotiations over its nuclear program.
Earlier this year, President Obama warned senators that taking congressional action against Iran could destabilize the talks. In an interview last December, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif stated if the United States Congress were to pass new sanctions against the country, “the entire deal is dead.”
Judging by the actions of the Republican members of the Senate, apparently we can only enhance our veterans’ healthcare by effectively killing peaceful nuclear talks with Iran in the process.
All but two of the 41 Republican senators who voted against the veterans’ benefits bill are also co-sponsors on a separate Act expanding sanctions on Iran.
“Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to S. 1982, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war,” American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said in a statement.
After successfully losing the female vote in 2012 while simultaneously alienating nearly every minority, I can only assume the GOP set their sites on upsetting the nation’s veterans out of boredom. Mission accomplished, guys.
“Veterans don’t have time for this nonsense, and veterans are tired of being used as political chew toys,” said Paul Rieckoff, CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
“I personally, I have to say this honestly, have a hard time understanding how anyone could vote for tax breaks for billionaires, for millionaires, for large corporations and then say we don’t have the resources to protect our veterans,” Sanders said in response to the vote.
You’re not alone, Senator.