WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, spoke on the Senate floor, calling on his colleagues to support a procedural motion that would bring S. 1315, the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007 to the floor for debate and an up-or-down vote. S. 1315 is a comprehensive, budget-neutral veterans' benefits bill approved last June by the Committee on Veterans' Affairs. This cloture vote has been scheduled for tomorrow, April 22, because certain Senators have blocked consideration of the bill.
Chairman Akaka's prepared remarks are below:
I urge my colleagues to support consideration of S. 1315, as reported by the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, the proposed "Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007." This is a comprehensive bill that would improve benefits and services for veterans, both young and old, and it should be debated and voted on.
I believe that a brief recap of how we came to seek cloture on this veterans' bill would be helpful in assisting my colleagues in their deliberation on cloture.
Last June - the Committee held a markup during which the then-Ranking Member, the Senator from Idaho, offered an amendment that would have modified a provision of the bill relating to Filipino veterans of World War II. This amendment would have reduced the amount of pension that Filipino veterans residing in the Philippines would receive.
I stress that the amendment was not to eliminate pension benefits for these veterans from the bill entirely - it was merely to reduce the benefit in line with what the Senator from Idaho viewed as appropriate. I disagreed with his assessment and we debated the issue. Ultimately, his amendment was not adopted.
As that markup concluded, the Senator from Idaho noted that he intended to bring his amendment regarding the pension issue to the floor during consideration of S. 1315, a step I certainly understood and accepted.
The report on S. 1315 was filed in August and I expected that it would come to the Floor in September. However, there was an unexpected change in the Committee's Republican leadership in early September, with the Senator from Idaho being replaced by the Senator from North Carolina. I did not push for consideration of S. 1315 while the new Ranking Member took over the responsibilities of the position.
When in October, Committee staff began, at my direction, to seek agreement for the bill to be brought to the floor, those efforts were not successful.
Later in the Fall, despite his suggestion that there was need for debate, the former Ranking Member curiously objected to my attempt to gain unanimous consent to debate the bill. I wrote to my colleague in an attempt to find a middle ground between the level of pension benefits in the bill as reported, and the level that he had sought during the June markup.
On December 13, 2007, I received a letter from the former Ranking Member that indicated that he did not feel that we were far apart from finding a compromise on the bill, and that he looked forward to working with me to gain final passage.
However, my optimism was short-lived. On that same day, the majority staff received a counteroffer from the minority staff, on behalf of the Committee's new Ranking Member, the Senator from North Carolina, which proposed to entirely eliminate pension benefits for Filipino veterans residing in the Philippines from the bill.
Shortly thereafter, I was surprised to learn that this counteroffer was embraced by the Committee's former Ranking Member - rendering his offer to negotiate null and void.
Additional efforts earlier this year to find a compromise or, at a minimum, to enter into an agreement for debate, were again rejected.
Now, after over seven months of obstruction in bringing this bill to the Floor, we have to resort to a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the bill, an action unprecedented in the history of the Veterans' Affairs Committee.
I am dismayed that, along with the Filipino veterans provisions included in the bill, a number of other worthy provisions have not been enacted because of obstruction by the Minority.
Mr. President, among other things, S. 1315, as reported, would:
This is by no means a comprehensive recitation of the eight titles and 38 provisions that are in this omnibus legislation. However, I hope it gives our colleagues an overview of the types of benefits that servicemembers and veterans stand to gain by passage of this legislation.
I ask our colleagues to vote in favor of cloture so as to bring this measure to the Floor."