Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked plans for a nearly $164 billion Veterans Affairs Department budget for fiscal 2016 over objections to Republicans' overarching spending plans and a lack of progress on a compromise budget deal.
The procedural move follows similar decisions to stall the fiscal 2016 defense appropriations bill earlier this year and echoes President Obama's pledge to veto any budget measure that does not repeal mandatory spending caps looming over all federal operations.
Republicans decried the move as playing politics at the expense of veterans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called it "one more example of Democrats preventing us from doing our business."
The VA appropriations bill, which also includes military construction funds, would have provided a 3 percent budget increase for the new fiscal year. It's another spending boost for the department, which has seen its total budget nearly triple since the late 1990s.
But the ongoing budget fight has less to do with the specifics of that bill than with the larger Republican budget plans, which leave in place spending caps on a host of nondefense agencies but get around limits on defense spending by adding $38 billion to temporary war funding that falls outside the scope of the regular defense budget.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called that "a gimmick for short-term funding" and blamed Republicans for refusing to advance responsible budget plans.
The VA budget is not subject to the spending caps. But just before Thursday's vote, the White House reiterated plans for a veto of the VA spending measure as currently written.
Obama "has been clear that he is not willing to lock in sequestration going forward, nor will he accept fixes to defense without also fixing non-defense," officials said in a statement.
The latest round in the ongoing fight came just a few hours after Congress managed to avoid a partial government shutdown by passing a last-minute budget extension through mid-December, giving both sides two more months to negotiate a budget plan for the full fiscal year.
McConnell has said he hopes to reach such a compromise before December, but lawmakers have been unsuccessful at finding ways to repeal the sequestration spending caps approved by Congress in 2011, despite repeated attempts and widespread distaste for them.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.