WASHINGTON — Republicans on Tuesday defeated a Democratic effort to provide almost $2 billion in additional healthcare funding for veterans, rejecting claims that Veterans Affairs hospitals were in crisis.
The proposal was part of an $80.6-billion emergency spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other military costs. The bill is slightly less than the $82 billion President Bush sought and the $81.4 billion approved by the House.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) proposed providing $1.98 billion in additional funding for veterans' care. She said VA hospitals were underfunded and overcrowded. "There's a train wreck coming," Murray warned.
Republicans denied that the VA facilities had such serious problems. They noted that the Bush administration had said the additional funding wasn't needed and that it had enough money to cope with emergencies.
Murray's proposal was defeated in a 54-46 vote, mostly along party lines.
The Senate's Republican leaders hoped to have the bill approved by the end of the week and ready for Bush's signature by the end of the month. But the timing of the bill has become uncertain, with Senate leaders dealing with stacks of amendments and a possible battle over immigration restrictions.
Immigration issues posed a potentially greater obstacle for the bill's swift passage.
The House version of the bill includes measures to tighten border security, such as requiring states to verify they aren't giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, granting judges broader power to deport political asylum seekers suspected of being terrorists, and allowing constructions of barriers for border security without regard to environmental protections.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said he had been urging senators to hold off on the immigration and border security proposals until the Senate had a chance to consider separate, more comprehensive legislation.