On his Senate Web page, Alabama Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III boasts that he “is an unwavering supporter of our courageous men and women in uniform and is known in Washington for his advocacy on their behalf.” It's a good line. Too bad it isn't true.
What Senator Sessions is known for in Washington is his habit of filibustering and obstructing just about any piece of legislation, but his record on veterans is particularly dismal. It got worse last night when Sessions was one of only 3 senators to vote against the Jeffers/McCain bill. His reasoning was simple: we had plenty of money to fight two wars “off the books” and add billions to the debt; too bad there's nothing left to take care of the people who were injured during the fighting.
Sessions made a point of order against an “emergency” designation provision that would keep the legislation from being limited by budget restrictions. Congress is not allowed to create legislation that would add to the federal deficit without subtracting money from elsewhere. The emergency designation allows Congress to bypass the budget rules. Sanders moved to waive the the point of order.
Co-sponsor John McCain disputed Sessions' motion:
“This is an emergency,” McCain said. “If it is not an emergency that we have neglected the men and women who have worked to keep us free, then I don't know what is. It breaks our hearts. It breaks Americans' hearts when they hear these stories of how we've treated these men and women.”
It doesn't break Sessions' heart; perhaps – like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz, he doesn't have one.
When Sessions lost his objection, he voted against the bill that would overhaul operations at the VA. Provisions include:
- More accountability: Give the VA Secretary more power to dismiss senior executives.
- More choice: Veterans who experience long wait times or live more than 40 miles from a VA health center can visit private doctors.
- More availability of services: $500 million in unused VA funds will be used to hire more doctors and nurses. It also authorizes the construction of 26 new medical facilities across the country.
The latter provision was part of a bill that Sessions helped block last December:
Supporters said the measure would have brought the most significant changes in decades to U.S. veterans' programs. For example, it called for 27 new medical facilities to help a healthcare system that is strained by veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Referring to recent budget deals that aim to bring down federal deficits, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama said: “This bill would spend more than we agreed to spend. The ink is hardly dry and here we have another bill to raise that spending again.”
Note that the supporters of last year's bill stressed how strained the VA system was by the influx of returning soldiers and aging veterans of the Vietnam War. During the hearings and debate, senators heard about problems with wait times and availability.
The difference is that now the GOP senses an opportunity to pummel the Democratic Administration. The only benefit to that is that maybe our veterans will begin receiving the treatment they need. But it won't be because Senator Jeff Sessions – a senior member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services! – did anything to help them.
Just imagine if the Republicans win control of the Senate in November. Think of the damage he could do as chair of the committee.