By Rick Maze – Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday Nov 4, 2009 13:03:46 EST
The senator holding up consideration of an omnibus veterans’ health bill doesn’t hate veterans and their families, but he does hate the idea of creating new benefits without paying for them, his spokesman says. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is using Senate rules to block a vote on S 1963, a major veterans bill, unless he has the chance to offer amendments to pay for the new benefits it creates, especially stipends, health benefits, counseling and other programs aimed at family caregivers of seriously wounded combat veterans. Coburn spokesman John Hart said the senator has questions about the new benefit, wondering why, if it is such a good thing for families, it is limited to helping only those of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans. But the main objection is cost. “We are at a point in our history when we have to start paying for things,” Hart said. Coburn has been in discussions with Senate leaders about the bill, but he objects to plans to pass the Veterans’ Caregiver and Omnibus Health Benefits Act of 2009 by voice vote and without amendments, Hart said. He is willing to let the bill be brought up for debate, as long as he gets the chance to amend it to provide a way to pay for the new benefits. One of the ideas would be to divert unspent money for economic stimulus projects to cover veterans benefit costs, Hart said. Other ideas, like cutting other programs, are also under consideration, Hart said. Hart’s comments come as 13 major military and veterans’ groups are urging Senate leaders to move forward despite Coburn’s objections. There has been no word if this might happen, but there has been a flurry of discussion about what it might take to get the Senate to approve the measure before Veterans’ Day.