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Santorum takes initiative on veterans budget bill



Published: Thu, June 30, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The bill is intended to add money to fix shortcomings with their health care.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. Rick Santorum played a role in the effort to fill a shortfall in funding for the veterans' budget by taking the lead on an amendment that would provide $1.5 billion to the agency.

The amendment filing came Wednesday, five days after Santorum, R-Pa., wrote a sharp letter to James Nicholson, secretary of Veteran Affairs, criticizing him for past assurances there was adequate funding.

The Department of Veterans Affairs told lawmakers last week that it expects veterans' health care to cost $1 billion more than expected this year. Democrats called the shortfall a symptom of President Bush's mismanagement of the Iraq war.

Santorum, who is chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, has voted against such funding additions in the past. He said Wednesday he did so because of assurances from Nicholson.

"When the secretary says we have enough resources, my feeling is if they say they have the resources to meet the needs then we don't give them more resources," Santorum said. "It turns out they were wrong. As a result of that, that's why you see me moving forward with an amendment that changes that."

Santorum was the original sponsor of the amendment. It cut off Democrats preparing to pounce on the shortfall with their own amendment that would have placed $1.4 billion more into veterans programs.

A Senate vote on the legislation was scheduled later Wednesday. The measure would still need to be passed in the House.

Response

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said the VA and White House agreed to seek emergency money after Senate Republicans moved to minimize the political fallout.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who has fought since spring for the additional funding, on Wednesday thanked Senate Republican leaders for their work on the issue.

Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Congressional Campaign, however, called Santorum's effort "disingenuous and phony" and said Santorum was trying to pander to Pennsylvania's 1.1 million veterans by filing the amendment.

Republicans are "trying to rescue a vulnerable Republican in their ranks by trying to give him a lifeline, so that he can gloss over the fact he voted 'no' three times to boost funding to the VA," Singer said.

Santorum is expected to have a tough re-election fight in 2006. Early polling shows him running behind state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr., the favorite to win the Democratic primary.

Santorum said he took a lead on the issue because he wrote a letter to Nicholson and because he is a Senate Republican leader.

"Our leadership was discussing it this week and we just felt this was something that we as leaders should take on," Santorum said. "Since I've had a little bit more activity in this area than anybody else, I was asked to take it on."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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