Coburn Blocking Veterans Benefits BillNovember 11, 2009 - by Donny Shaw
It’s Veterans Day, and, appropriately, the Senate has been trying to finalize their work on a bill to improve health care for veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a summary prepared by the Democrats, the bill would “provide a stipend and other support for caregivers of severely wounded veterans, improve health care offered by the government, expand service for those in rural areas, ensure equal access to female veterans and address homelessness among veterans,” according to Jim Myers of Tulsa World.
The bill is called the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, and it is being held up in the Senate over the objections of a single Republican — Sen. Thomas Coburn [R, OK].
Coburn has a hold on the bill because it would spend $3.7 billion on the caregiver stipends without specifically designated a mechanism for the government to recoup the money. He has distributed a document outlining his recommendation for “wasteful, duplicative and obsolete” government programs that he thinks should be eliminated to pay for the cost of the bill’s services to veterans.
This kind of appeal is nothing new for Coburn and it doesn’t really mean that he wants to prevent these services from going to the veterans who need them. Indeed, on his website he writes that he supports many of the goals of the bill. This is an example of his own personal principles rubbing up, awkwardly, against policy that most consider to be good on its own merits.
For the past several years, Cobun has been on a crusade against any legislation that doesn’t meet his criteria for fiscal responsiblity. At the beginning of the last session of Congress, Coburn outlined the criteria he would use for deciding whether or not to put a hold on legislation in a letter (pdf) to his Senate colleagues. He listed four principles against with he would judge bills — 1) no duplicative programs, 2) no un-offset spending, 3) no increases of government funding for a program that also receives private funds and 4) no sustaining funds for cultural institutions.
In addition to his concerns over spending in the bill that is not offset, Coburn has another qualm with the bill that is actually not covered in his list of principles. The bill “discriminates against Vietnam veterans, Gulf War I veterans, and World War II veterans, all of whom are excluded from this program,” he writes.
The Senate will continue work on the bill on Monday when they return from the Veteran’s Day recess. The Senate Democrat’s calendar shows that a vote on a Coburn amendment to the bill is scheduled to take place on Monday afternoon.