Senate Could Scuffle Over Veterans Bill

Posted April 18, 2008 at 3:49pm

After a slow week of debate on the highway technical corrections bill, Senate leaders have set an ambitious floor schedule for the week of April 21, aiming to take up four bills.

A spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said the Senate will consider the Disabled Veterans Insurance Improvement Act, the Fair Pay Act, the Aviation Investment and Modernization Act and the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act.

The veterans’ insurance bill would give life insurance coverage up to $50,000 to veterans and increase their mortgage life insurance coverage to $200,000 from $90,000.

The Fair Pay Act seeks to prohibit salary discrimination based on race or gender. The bill stems from the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Supreme Court case, where the high court ruled that companies are protected from discrimination lawsuits if the employee does not file suit within a 180-day period.

A Senate Democratic aide conceded that it took all of last week for the Senate to pass the highway technical corrections bill, which is normally intended to correct clerical and other minor errors. That bill was held up because of a fight between Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) over how to investigate a controversial earmark for the Coconut Road project in Florida.

Coburn offered an amendment that would have established a bicameral committee to investigate the earmark’s origins, but that was defeated. Boxer, who was managing the bill, proposed an amendment that was ultimately approved giving the Justice Department the authority to investigate the earmark.

On Friday, a senior Republican aide snickered at Senate Democrats for the packed schedule, calling it “very bizarre” that Reid filed a cloture motion on the veterans bill that would allow the chamber to vote as soon as Tuesday. But the aide said Reid planned to file cloture on the fair pay legislation on Monday, which would push aside debate on the veterans bill.

“He is essentially filing a cloture within a cloture, which doesn’t make sense to me,” said the aide.

The GOP aide complained that the packed schedule will likely doom the veterans bill because the second cloture vote may precipitously end debate on it. That could inject politics into what should be a bipartisan issue.

But Democrats leave it up to Republicans to stall floor action.

“We’ll see if the Republicans are ready to legislate on these noncontroversial bills, or if they’ll again turn what should be a voice vote into a four-day affair,” said Reid’s deputy press secretary, Stephen Krupin.