Providing for the needs of Union war veterans was one of the great issues of the day. Cleveland had incurred the voters' wrath by vetoing a major pension bill in 1887. Congress, with considerable encouragement from the G.A.R., passed a measure in 1890 that provided pension assistance for all disabled (those unable to do manual labor) former Union soldiers. Benefits were also expanded to veterans' parents, widows and children.
The implementation of these programs was cheered by the recipients, but played a major role in the shrinkage of the surplus, which had been accumulating from tariff receipts.
The Congress which met from 1889 to 1891 was dubbed the "Billion Dollar Congress" because of its lavish spending; internal improvements, naval building and pensions were prime recipients of this largesse.