WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn continued Monday to block a bill providing new health care services for veterans, despite strong backing of the bill from veterans two days before the national holiday in their honor. Coburn, who is single-handedly preventing the bill from passing the Senate, said Monday that the bill would add an estimated $3.7 billion to the deficit over five years and that lawmakers had made no effort to find corresponding cuts in other programs. Moreover, he said, the bill’s assistance for caregivers for disabled vets only applies to veterans from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and the assistant majority leader, said Coburn was hurting 6,800 families who have a disabled veteran living at home and need help caring for him or her. But Coburn said he has offered a number of programs that could be cut to help pay for the new benefits — including subsidies to cotton producers who store their crops under a federal loan program and subsidies to air carriers who provide service to some small communities. Coburn said veterans had shown great courage in their jobs defending the country and that lawmakers should show courage in their jobs by cutting some old programs to pay for new ones, rather than passing the debt on to future generations. "There’s no question we do want to do the right things for our veterans,” Coburn said. "But there has to come a time when we are forced to make the hard choices.” The bill, in question, S 1963, combines two pieces of legislation and would address caregivers, mental health services for female veterans and expanded services for homeless veterans and veterans in rural areas. "These are extremely important, popular pieces of legislation,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat. Coburn’s offices have gotten numerous calls from veterans about his position, two-thirds of which are opposed to the stance he’s taking, a Coburn aide said. But some veterans have called to say that they agree with his contention that the bill shouldn’t be limited to care for veterans wounded after 9/11, the aide said.
There’s no question we do want to do the right things for our veterans. But there has to come a time when we are forced to make the hard choices.”