Clear
50°
Clear
Hi 73° | Lo 52°

Vets Bill Clears Hurdle

Senate to Begin Debate on Cost

  • FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachel Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

    FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachel Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

  • FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachel Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

    FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachel Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

  • FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachael Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

    FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachael Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

  • FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachael Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

    FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachael Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

  • FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachel Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

    FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachel Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

  • FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2012 file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. The veterans bill vote could put Senate Republicans in the uncomfortable position of saying no to a politically powerful constituency during an election year. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the bill’s author and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, has gained the endorsement of myriad veterans groups to generate momentum for his bill, which the panel says would cost $21 billion over 10 years. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

    FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2012 file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. The veterans bill vote could put Senate Republicans in the uncomfortable position of saying no to a politically powerful constituency during an election year. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the bill’s author and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, has gained the endorsement of myriad veterans groups to generate momentum for his bill, which the panel says would cost $21 billion over 10 years. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

  • FILE - In this Sept. 3, 2013 file photo Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.  talks to a reporter following a speech in Goose Creek, S.C. The vote could put Senate Republicans in the uncomfortable position of saying no to a politically powerful constituency during an election year. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the bill’s author and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, has gained the endorsement of myriad veterans groups to generate momentum for his bill, which the panel says would cost $21 billion over 10 years. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith, File)

    FILE - In this Sept. 3, 2013 file photo Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. talks to a reporter following a speech in Goose Creek, S.C. The vote could put Senate Republicans in the uncomfortable position of saying no to a politically powerful constituency during an election year. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the bill’s author and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, has gained the endorsement of myriad veterans groups to generate momentum for his bill, which the panel says would cost $21 billion over 10 years. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith, File)

  • FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachel Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
  • FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachel Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
  • FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachael Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
  • FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachael Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
  • FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachel Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
  • FILE - In this Dec. 6, 2012 file photo, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. The veterans bill vote could put Senate Republicans in the uncomfortable position of saying no to a politically powerful constituency during an election year. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the bill’s author and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, has gained the endorsement of myriad veterans groups to generate momentum for his bill, which the panel says would cost $21 billion over 10 years. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
  • FILE - In this Sept. 3, 2013 file photo Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.  talks to a reporter following a speech in Goose Creek, S.C. The vote could put Senate Republicans in the uncomfortable position of saying no to a politically powerful constituency during an election year. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the bill’s author and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, has gained the endorsement of myriad veterans groups to generate momentum for his bill, which the panel says would cost $21 billion over 10 years. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith, File)

Washington — A sprawling Democratic bill expanding health, education and other benefits for veterans easily cleared an early Senate hurdle on Tuesday. But the election-year measure still faces an uncertain fate as Republicans battle to make it smaller and find ways to pay for it.

By a 99-0 vote, senators agreed to begin debating the legislation, which sponsor Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said would cost $21 billion over the coming decade. The GOP over the next days is expected to seek paring it down to lessen its impact on budget deficits.

By the time the Senate reaches a final vote, the bill could confront GOP lawmakers with an uncomfortable campaign-season test over curbing spending for the nation’s 22 million veterans and their families.

Some Republicans consider Sanders’ legislation an election-year ploy aimed at forcing them into embarrassing votes. They say the measure is too costly and would provide so many new benefits that it would clog up a system already overburdened with veterans seeking health care.

But Sanders said, “We have the moral obligation to do the very best we can for veterans.”

Republicans were demanding a chance to offer amendments — particularly a GOP substitute that Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the top Republican on the Veterans panel, said was less costly and would be paid for with savings culled from veterans’ programs.

Sanders’ bill would let many uninsured veterans without service-connected injuries get coverage from the VA health care system.

The Democratic bill would also make it easier for veterans to qualify for in-state tuition at public universities. Jobless programs would be extended and states would be pressured to make it easier for veterans to get truck driver’s and other licenses.