Hostage Crisis: GOP Tries Slipping Iran Sanctions Into Veterans’ Bill

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Election year politics are once again casting a shadow over the nation’s legislative process; on this occasion, hanging in the balance is a $21-billion, Democrat-sponsored bill aimed at expanding healthcare, and education programs for the estimated 2.6 million veterans of the long combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those men and women are returning from the two wars, many of whom are still suffering from combat-related psychological problems or severe injuries from roadside explosions. Often, veterans face incredibly long wait times to receive medical care at government facilities, and the bill seeks to remedy that problem.

A unanimous Tuesday vote of 99 to 0 moved the veterans bill beyond a key procedural hurdle in the Senate. That legislation — which would create 27 new medical facilities in 18 states and Puerto Rico is now facing open debate on the floor of the upper house. Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who chairs the Veterans’ Affairs Committee and was the chief sponsor of the bill, called the bill the “most comprehensive legislation for veterans to come before Congress in decades is strongly supported by virtually every veterans and military organization in the country.”

But what he and fellow Democrat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada believe should be a bipartisan issue has drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers who opposed the extension of healthcare benefits to veterans who did not sustain war-related injuries. The party has also argued against the cost; GOP leaders are now looking for solutions to make the legislation smaller and to finance it differently. The Sanders’s bill would predominantly be paid for by money left unused from the concluded operation in Iraq and the winding down the military engagement in Afghanistan

While helping U.S. veterans is a popular issue among politicians of both parties, Republican lawmakers’ concern for the impact the benefit expansion would have on the United States budget deficit is by no means surprising. But the inclusion of an amendment would not only decrease the cost of the legislation, but also impose fresh sanctions on Iran if ongoing negotiations over scaling down its nuclear program fail. That addition has enraged many Democratic senators. “Please do not inject the Iran sanctions issue into a debate on how we can improve the lives of veterans and their families,” Sanders said in a Senate floor statement. In a press release issued Wednesday he quoted Commander Daniel M. Dellinger of the 2.4-million-strong American Legion as saying that, “Iran is a serious issue that Congress needs to address, but it cannot be tied to S. 1982, which is extremely important as our nation prepares to welcome millions of U.S. military servicemen and women home from war.”

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