Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Wednesday discussed details of a sweeping Veterans Affairs bill he introduced last week, saying he is open to paying for the measure with savings from winding down overseas contingency operations (OCO), formerly known as the global war on terror.
The legislation would repeal a controversial pension cut for younger military retirees that Congress and President Obama approved in the budget deal last month, in addition to expanding certain veterans benefits, such as dental and medical care, education and caretaker stipends.
Sanders, who heads the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said during a new conference that the bill would cost an estimated $30 billion over 10 years. “Yes, it costs money, but these are sensible provisions and something that our veterans are entitled to,” he said. “I think the majority of Americans would agree with me.”
A long list of veterans groups have backed the bill, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Wounded Warrior Project and the Military Officers Association of America. Sanders said he expects support from virtually the entire Democratic caucus.
But the price tag may cause some Republicans to balk at the legislation, potentially leading to attempts to trim certain provisions, pay for them with savings in other areas, or try to enact some of the more popular measures as separate bills.
Already, lawmakers from both parties have lined up with bills to repeal or replace the pension cut, which reduces cost-of-living adjustments for working-age military retirees by 1 percent starting in December 2015. A higher rate would apply once those individuals reach age 62.
The pension cut does not apply to disabled military retirees, due to an amendment in the spending bill Obama signed this month.
Sanders indicated he has no reservations about using savings from overseas contingency operations to pay for the comprehensive VA bill. “When you understand that OCO is designed for military purposes, I feel very comfortable saying a modest amount of this money can be used for the people who defend us,” he said.
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