Coburn still blocking bill
BY JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
11/10/09 at 4:00 AM
WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn accused Democrats of using veterans as pawns Monday to push a costly benefits bill, and they accused him of making false claims about their bill and placing budget concerns over vital care for veterans.
Confirming he is blocking a floor vote on the bill, the Oklahoma Republican continued to insist the cost of the bill should be offset, and claimed he has provided backers of the measure with a list of programs that could be cut.
"If senators would pay for this program and make a few common sense changes, this bill could pass the Senate today," he said.
"Unfortunately, bill sponsors are more (interested) in holding press conferences and playing political games than doing the hard work of legislating."
Attempting to speak for veterans, Coburn said they would want the bill paid for.
The two sides held dueling press conferences on the bill, and in an unusual move Coburn showed up and sat on the front row of the press conference by Democratic Sens. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Jon Tester of Montana and Mark Begich of Alaska.
That did not keep the Democrats from accusing Coburn of putting out distorted claims about the bill.
Tester said senators always can come up various reasons to be against certain bills.
"This is not one of them," he said.
Tester singled out the benefits American Indian veterans would receive under the bill.
Begich said there is no excuse for not supporting veterans and their caregivers.
"There is no price too high to take care of our veterans,'' he said.
Akaka, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said Coburn's hold on the bill is denying vital benefits to wounded veterans who want to receive care at home and to women veterans.
Democrats repeatedly cited Veterans Day, which is Wednesday.
Key provisions of 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.
More than a dozen veterans groups support the bill.
Coburn said the costs of the bill have been put at $3.7 billion for five years, but Akaka, without addressing that figure directly, suggested provisions that helped keep disabled veterans at home and out of institutions could save money.
Jim Myers (202) 484-1424
Tom Coburn: The Republican says Democrats are using veterans as pawns to push a benefits bill on which he has placed a hold.