I haven’t given any attention to Bernie Sanders’ veterans benefits bill (S.1982), even though my Google+ account was flooded with information about it last week. I knew it wouldn’t go anywhere. But what ultimately happened says a lot about the modern Republican Party.
It was a simple bill: it allocated $21 billion over the next ten years to enhance veterans benefits, which is needed, given the huge increase in demand caused by our two recent very long wars. But it’s hard to get too excited about such things given that the Republicans are against doing anything out of principle. They wouldn’t want the president to have a “win.”
So I figured that like most widely supported bills, it would make it through the Senate and go to die in the House. After all, the Senate is filled with people like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, men who have never seen a war they didn’t like. Certainly these men who love talking about our brave heroes in uniform would be for supporting the former troops. But no. They both filibustered the bill. So it didn’t even get the chance to go to the House to die.
Of course, the Republicans who filibustered the bill would never admit to being against the bill. They claim to be all for extending these benefits. But this is always the way things work in Congress. This is one of the main points in Winner-Take-All Politics. Politicians will never admit to being against a bill in a general sense. They always come up with some minor reason why the bill is unacceptable. I lampooned this before regarding the minimum wage, “If we were raising it to $8.99 per hour, I would vote for it. But I just cannot support $9 per hour!”
We have the same thing with Sanders’ veterans benefits bill. The government has a floating fund for foreign wars—money that goes to pay for the Afghanistan War but is currently not being used to fund the Iraq War. The bill uses some of this money. Graham and the rest of the Republicans are using this as an excuse to be against the bill. He said, “That’s an illusionary pay-for. That’s not real money.” Of course, Graham was against pulling out of Iraq. So he was all for spending that money to create new disabled veterans. But using it to take care of those disabled veterans who already exist was not acceptable.
The bill was blocked by a procedural vote that required 60 votes to proceed, with a vote of 56-41. Only two Republicans voted for it: Dean Heller of Nevada and Jerry Moran of Kansas. Neither man is anything but rigidly far right, but in the context of the modern Republican Party, they are among the more reasonable people.
The whole thing is shameful, but not surprising. There is no doubt that under a Republican president, this bill would have passed with large bipartisan support. So the Republicans don’t seem to stand for anything if they might have to share the credit. What I wonder now is if Americans (and above all, the mainstream press) will continue to treat the Republican Party as though it is the party that is most supportive of the military. I’m not at all sure it will have any effect. For a long time it has been clear that the Republican Party isn’t pro-military, it is pro-war. Republican politicians are always in favor of war and that is not at all how one would act if one were interested in supporting the troops.