Sanders, McCain Band Together to Bring VA Bill To Floor Wednesday

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 21: Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) talks with reporters after stepping off the Senate floor at the U.S. Capitol November 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. The Senate voted 52-48 to invoke the so-called 'nuclear option', voting to change Senate rules on the controversial filibuster for most presidential nominations with a simple majority vote.
National Journal
Stacy Kaper
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Stacy Kaper
June 11, 2014, 8:17 a.m.

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.

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