The Ottumwa Courier

AP National

June 12, 2014

Lawmakers push to approve unified veterans' bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — After two overwhelming votes in two days, members of Congress say they are confident they can agree on a bill to improve veterans' health care and send it to the president's desk by the end of the month.

The Senate easily approved a bill Wednesday to help shorten wait times for thousands of military veterans seeking medical care, a day after the House unanimously adopted a similar measure.

The Senate bill would authorize about $35 billion over three years to pay for outside care for veterans, as well as hire hundreds of doctors and nurses and lease 26 new health facilities in 17 states and Puerto Rico. The House would spend about $620 million over the same period.

Just three lawmakers — all Republican senators — voted against the veterans measures, compared with 519 lawmakers who voted in favor.

Opponents said the Senate bill was a "blank check" to spend billions of dollars with little or no way to rein it in.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the overwhelming Senate vote spoke for itself. The 93-3 tally came after the Senate voted 75-19 to waive normal budget rules and declare the bill an emergency.

"I think we've shown that we can overcome partisanship and move quickly on a very important issue," Sanders said, adding that he hopes to bring a unified House-Senate bill to a vote as soon as next week.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of House Committee Veterans' Affairs Committee, also was optimistic. Many of the provisions included in the Senate bill "are based on ideas that have already cleared the House, so I'm hopeful that both chambers of Congress can soon agree on a final package to send to the president's desk," Miller said.

The White House said Wednesday that President Barack Obama supports the Senate bill.

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