Sanders, McCain Aim to Bring VA Bill To Floor Wednesday
Lawmakers are Trying to Work Through Amendments Behind the Scenes
By Stacy Kaper
The push is on to bring legislation that attempts to stop preventable veterans deaths to the floor as early as Wednesday.
Senators John McCain and Bernie Sanders said they hope to work out any remaining issues quickly so that they can move forward with their bill, which focuses on solving the crisis at the Veterans Affairs Department by making it easier to fire incompetent senior leaders and expanding access to veterans health care beyond the VA.
"There's a couple of people that still have concerns, and hopefully we can get them resolved, like today I hope. I keep hoping, but I hoped for that yesterday, too," said McCain, the Arizona Republican who brokered the bipartisan legislation with Sanders.
McCain would not elaborate on the remaining concerns posed by some of his colleagues, although some Republicans are seeking tougher accountability measures, or broader access to non-VA health centers. But he said the goal is to work out amendments behind the scenes and incorporate any changes to the bill before it is brought to the floor, rather than get into a protracted debate by voting on amendments individually.
"We are trying to satisfy everyone's concerns so we can do it without amendments," McCain said. "We are not saying no one can propose an amendment, we are working with people with amendments to see if we can't satisfy them, without having to vote on amendments. That's a big difference."
McCain said whether the bill could be completed in the Senate this week would depend on how amendment requests were dealt with.
"It depends on whether I can get a couple of people's problems resolved, and I will know that better today," he said.
Sanders, the Vermont Independent who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, said he spoke with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Wednesday morning and they hope to work through any remaining issues quickly.
"I just talked to the majority leader, and I think he wants and I want to see this bill get to the floor as soon as possible," said Sanders. "We have a crisis in the VA, and I think we owe the veterans of this country the need for rapid response."
Sanders said given the broad bipartisan support for addressing rampant problems with health care services at the agency, he did not anticipate major hurdles. But he noted any one member can slow things down.
"There may be [issues], but we are working on it," he said. "You are in an institution with 100 people, and anyone can object to anything, so you never know, but I would hope that we could get it to the floor today," he said.
A Democratic leadership aide said that it might take until Thursday to work out an agreement on amendments and bring the bill to the floor, but that Senate action was expected this week. The goal is to get a final version to the president's desk before lawmakers leave town for the Fourth of July recess.