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Democrats Near Success on Discharge Petition for Veterans Bill

Stunned by the House Republican leadership’s unwillingness to move a bipartisan bill dealing with veterans’ benefits, Democrats are pushing a discharge petition — and could earn a rare procedural victory.

But GOP leaders are urging rank-and-file Members to thwart the minority’s efforts to force floor action on the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2003, which would allow all retired veterans with a service-connected disability to receive both disability compensation and military retirement pay simultaneously.

“We don’t think they should sign it,” said John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

Because the White House doesn’t like the bill, the leadership does not want to send the president a bill that he is likely to veto, Feehery said.

Instead of allowing Members to sign the House petition, the leadership has asked the Armed Services Committee to look into the matter and come up with a resolution that can be included in conference committee, Feehery said.

The Senate, unlike the House, included such a provision, known as a concurrent receipt, in its 2004 Defense Department authorization bill.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall (Ga.) filed a discharge petition June 12 to bring the stand-alone bill to the floor immediately.

The bill was originally drafted by Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and has 304 bipartisan co-sponsors, however neither Bilirakis nor any other Republican, save one, has signed on. Only Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) has loaned his John Hancock to the effort.

A spokeswoman for Bilirakis said he has not decided whether to support the drive.

A discharge petition is a procedural maneuver that forces the House to act on a stalled measure by prompting the appropriate committee to either move the bill or lose control of it.

Once the petitioner receives 218 signatures and waits seven days, the bill can be brought straight to the floor.

Currently Marshall has 199 signatures — almost every one of the House’s 206 Democrats.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said he is amazed that the House cannot move a bill that has big bipartisan support.

“It’s sort of like the child tax credit,” he said, adding that the GOP leadership lends it rhetorical, but not actual, support.

Upon learning of the Republican plan to address the issue in conference committee, Hoyer said: “I am shocked that the Republican leadership in the House who has been totally unwilling to work with the Republican-controlled Senate now say they want to work with the Senate.”

If Marshall can persuade a dozen Republicans to sign on, it will be the first time this year that Democrats successfully dislodge a bill.

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