Senate Passes Emergency VA Bill at Warp Speed

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The Senate had a rare burst of productivity Wednesday, passing a bipartisan bill aimed at tackling the VA health care scandal at warp speed.  

The Senate backed the compromise Veterans Affairs package , 93-3, sending it to the House after leaders in both parties responded to the national outcry over tens of thousands of veterans stuck waiting months for health care.  

Senate Veterans' Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., led negotiations on the bipartisan agreement to get veterans access to outside medical providers and provide emergency funds for doctors, nurse and facilities with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.  

"What I have learned since I have been chair of the Veterans' Committee for the last year-and-a-half is that the cost of war does not end when the last shots are fired and the last missiles are launched," Sanders said. "The cost of war continues until the last veteran receives the care and the benefits that he or she is entitled to and has earned on the battlefield. The cost of war is in fact extremely expensive."  

McCain praised the efforts of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and panel ranking member Richard M. Burr of North Carolina.  

"I say with not typical modesty that they were the ones that are really responsible for the provisions of this bill," McCain said of Burr and Coburn. "I'd like to extend my appreciation to the senator from Vermont, whose chairmanship of the Veterans' Affairs Committee I think has been conducted with patriotism and with the needs of our veterans uppermost in his priorities."  

Sanders said McCain was "too modest," saying that the former prisoner of war "stepped up to the plate" to hammer out a deal.  

The overwhelming vote came after senators voted to waive a budgetary point of order raised because the bill includes what's basically a blank check to implement the measure.  

The move came amid the chaos on the other side of the Rotunda, where the surprise primary defeat of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., plunged that chamber's majority into a leadership debate in the middle of the year.  

Senators agreed to use a House-passed spending bill as the legislative shell for the Sanders-McCain agreement, preventing the possibility of a standoff with the House over constitutional powers.