Washington Digest: Senate stymied on veterans bill


WASHINGTON — The Senate last week failed to move forward on a bill that would expand education and health care programs for veterans.

Senators voted 56-41 for the bill, but it needed a budget waiver requiring 60 votes, and so it fell short. Most Republicans voted against the waiver following complaints the $24 billion bill would bust previously agreed-upon caps on spending.

The bill also became entangled in an effort to add new sanctions against Iran, an amendment that was blocked by Democratic leaders.

“The issue of Iran sanctions has nothing to do with the needs of veterans,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The bill called for 27 new medical facilities for veterans and would have expanded dental and medical care, education aid and caretaker stipends. It also would have extended the period veterans are eligible to enroll in the VA health system from five years to 10 years.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee, questioned whether the already-stressed VA would have the resources to handle expanded benefit programs and more enrollees.

“Adding more individuals to an already broken system doesn’t seem wise,” he said.

Sens. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for the waiver.

HOUSE TACKLES REGULATIONS

The Republican-controlled House tackled several bills aimed at federal regulations.

The House voted 295-114 to allow consumers to “unlock” their smartphones so they can be used on any network. The proposal would reverse a 2012 Library of Congress decision that made the practice illegal.

The White House came out in support of the bill in response to an online petition that gained 114,000 signatures. While it would allow individuals to unlock their phones, it still would prohibit the practice of altering phones in bulk so they can be resold.

Consumer advocacy groups withdrew support for the bill due to the continued prohibition on bulk unlocking, saying the practice helps consumers and helps the environment by permitting reuse of old phones.

Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., and Steven Horsford, D-Nev., voted for the bill. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., voted against it.

The House voted 243-176 to delay proposed Internal Revenue Service rules Republicans said would restrict political activities of certain tax-exempt groups. The issue grew out of the controversy last year over whether the Obama administration was “targeting” conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.

The bill seeks to put the rules on hold until Congress and the Treasury Department complete investigations of the scandal. Republicans said the IRS rules effectively would legalize harassment of conservatives, while Democrats charged the bill was election-year grandstanding.

Heck and Amodei voted for the bill. Horsford and Titus voted against it.

Lawmakers voted 353-65 for a bill that would overturn a Supreme Court ruling on property rights.

The bill would reverse the court’s 2005 ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. The 5-4 decision allowed the Connecticut city to use its power of eminent domain to take private property and give it to another interest for economic development. The court said economic development was in the public’s interest and so could be considered a justified reason for taking the land.

Bill supporters said the court’s ruling was overly broad. “No one should have to live in fear of the government snatching up their home, farm, church or small business,” said Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Opponents said the bill was unnecessary as 43 states have adopted their own eminent domain laws since the court’s ruling.

The bill drew support from both Republicans and Democrats. Heck, Amodei, Titus and Horsford voted for it.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

 

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