Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
October 6, 2015

VA Bill Could Pass Senate by Week’s End (Video)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate could move ahead at breakneck pace on bipartisan legislation to address the  scandal rocking the Department of Veterans Affairs — after just as swiftly voting to block a partisan student loan refinancing bill.

A test vote on the student loan measure championed by Democrats and led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is set for Wednesday, and despite the vocal support of Democrats and an outside public relations push, it is going nowhere fast.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dissed that measure, which would allow student loans to be refinanced at lower current rates with an offsetting millionaire minimum tax. Instead, he said, the Senate should be acting on the bill to address the unfolding scandal at the VA, negotiated by Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Republican John McCain of Arizona.

“We have a bipartisan veterans bill negotiated the way we used to do business in the Senate, with members of both parties, ready to go. It was introduced yesterday. So, I hope we’ll not get onto a bill going nowhere and immediately turn to the veterans bipartisan bill and see if we can address that in a bipartisan way very quickly. Maybe even finish it this week,” McConnell said.

McConnell’s counterpart Majority Leader Harry Reid also thought the VA bill could move ahead quickly.

“I hope we can bring it to the floor in the next 24 hours, 48 hours at the most. And if people want amendments on the veterans bill, they should be able to have amendments on it,” the Nevada Democrat said. “We’re not going to be able to spend the next couple of weeks on it. … It’s urgent that we get this done to resolve some of the outstanding issues within the VA.”

Sanders made similar comments on the consideration of amendments — what has become something of a lost art in the Senate — with Reid routinely using procedural tools to block them.

“I think a sensible approach is to provide the opportunity for people to offer germane amendments dealing with veterans’ issues, not Keystone pipelines or abortion or anything else,” Sanders said. “And if we can do that, maybe we can show the United States of America that people can come together on a very, very important issue and do it in rapid fashion.”

McCain conceded there might be one other procedural hurdle for the VA measure, since it would open the floodgates of federal funding to address the claims backlog highlighted by the existence of secret waiting lists. The bill would not only authorize but also appropriate funds through fiscal 2016.

McCain said he would not be surprised to face a budgetary point of order about exceeding the budget caps in current law, but that “of course” the votes would be present to overcome that hurdle.

Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.

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