Senate’s Turn as House Takes a Break

VA scandal, confirmations, and climate change top a busy agenda this week.

Chairman Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki during the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing that is focusing on wait times veterans face to get medical care May 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. The American Legion called Monday for the resignation of Shinseki amid reports by former and current VA employees that up to 40 patients may have died because of delayed treatment at an agency hospital in Phoenix, Arizona.
National Journal
Michael Catalini
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Michael Catalini
June 1, 2014, 7:08 a.m.

Vet­er­ans Af­fairs Sec­ret­ary Eric Shin­seki has resigned, but the VA scan­dal is still front and cen­ter.

With sen­at­ors re­turn­ing from a week off and the House out, law­makers are wrest­ling with how to ad­dress the re­ports of secret wait­ing lists that res­ul­ted in delayed care and the deaths of vet­er­ans.

The Sen­ate could take up a bill aimed at hold­ing VA of­fi­cials ac­count­able, but which one and when is un­clear, ac­cord­ing to Sen­ate aides.

Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs Com­mit­tee Chair­man Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont is hold­ing a hear­ing Thursday, at which time more-sweep­ing le­gis­la­tion than the au­thor­iz­a­tion meas­ure that failed earli­er this year could be con­sidered.

The House has already passed a bill that seeks to make it easi­er to fire poorly per­form­ing VA of­fi­cials, and Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Flor­ida has in­tro­duced sim­il­ar le­gis­la­tion in the Sen­ate. Ru­bio’s bill has 25 co­spon­sors, with Sen. Bill Nel­son of Flor­ida the only Demo­crat on board.

Sanders has been work­ing with the White House to draft a so-called ac­count­ab­il­ity bill aimed at broad­en­ing the de­part­ment’s per­son­nel powers, an aide said. Whatever is worked out is likely to dif­fer from the House ver­sion, however.

Sanders has also raised the idea of short­en­ing VA wait times by let­ting vets go to mil­it­ary hos­pit­als, private doc­tors, and com­munity health cen­ters.

“Clearly right now — short-term — we’ve gotta make sure that every vet­er­an on wait­ing lists gets health care as quickly as pos­sible,” Sanders said last week on CNN.

The Sen­ate is also ex­pec­ted to con­firm Sylvia Math­ews Bur­well as Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sec­ret­ary this week. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id filed clo­ture on her nom­in­a­tion be­fore the Sen­ate left town. Though nom­in­ated to suc­ceed Kath­leen Se­beli­us, whose role in im­ple­ment­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act was a polit­ic­al light­ning rod, Bur­well has seen little con­tro­versy throughout her con­firm­a­tion pro­cess.

On Monday, the Sen­ate will vote on Keith M. Harp­er for the rank of am­bas­sad­or dur­ing his ten­ure as U.S. rep­res­ent­at­ive to the United Na­tions Hu­man Rights Coun­cil.

The Sen­ate is also likely to vote on sev­er­al oth­er con­firm­a­tions this week, in­clud­ing Shar­on Bowen to be com­mis­sion­er of the Com­mod­ity Fu­tures Trad­ing Com­mis­sion; Mark Mas­troi­anni to be a U.S. dis­trict judge in Mas­sachu­setts; Bruce Hendricks to be a U.S. dis­trict judge in South Car­o­lina; and Tan­ya Chutkan to be U.S. dis­trict judge for the Dis­trict of Columbia.

The Sen­ate Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee will also con­tin­ue markups this week, with the Trans­port­a­tion/Hous­ing and Urb­an De­vel­op­ment and the Com­merce, Justice, Sci­ence sub­com­mit­tees meet­ing Tues­day. A full com­mit­tee markup of the CJS and THUD meas­ures will take place Thursday.

Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Mikul­ski and rank­ing mem­ber Richard Shelby are ask­ing At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er to in­vest­ig­ate the VA scan­dal.

“Vet­er­ans de­serve bet­ter than delay and deni­al. The Sen­ate CJS bill that we will re­com­mend to the Ap­pro­pri­ations Com­mit­tee next week will provide the re­sources needed for crim­in­al and civil in­vest­ig­a­tions in­to al­leg­a­tions that the VA fals­i­fied pa­tient re­cords at cen­ters and clin­ics across the coun­try,” Mikul­ski and Shelby said in a let­ter.

En­ergy and En­vir­on­ment

Cli­mate Cres­cendo

A day after the ad­min­is­tra­tion un­veils land­mark reg­u­la­tions to rein in car­bon emis­sions from the na­tion’s fleet of power plants, Demo­crats on Cap­it­ol Hill plan to shine a spot­light of their own on cli­mate change.

On Tues­day the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Green Jobs and the New Eco­nomy Sub­com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing that looks at the im­pacts of glob­al warm­ing on farm­ers, fish­er­men, and for­est­ers. The hear­ing fea­tures testi­mony from Fish and Wild­life Ser­vice Dir­ect­or Dan Ashe and will ex­plore a vari­ety of mit­ig­a­tion strategies that might aid im­pacted in­dus­tries in the face of ex­treme weath­er events.

Later that day, the Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Wa­ter and Power Sub­com­mit­tee takes up le­gis­la­tion in­tro­duced by Sen. Ron Wyden of Ore­gon that would pave the way for dam re­mov­al in the Klamath River Basin, a stretch span­ning Ore­gon and Cali­for­nia. The bill has drawn praise from con­ser­va­tion groups as well as ranch­ers and farm­ers.

On Wed­nes­day, the Sen­ate En­vir­on­ment and Pub­lic Works Com­mit­tee will eval­u­ate ef­forts to shore up safety stand­ards at nuc­le­ar power plants. Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion Chair­wo­man Al­lis­on Mac­far­lane will ap­pear be­fore the pan­el dur­ing the hear­ing. Com­mit­tee Chair­wo­man Bar­bara Box­er of Cali­for­nia and Mac­far­lane have pre­vi­ously clashed over the re­lease of in­form­a­tion re­lated to the clos­ure of the San Ono­fre nuc­le­ar power plant.

Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity

In­tel Mat­ters

The Sen­ate De­fense Ap­pro­pri­ations Sub­com­mit­tee will con­sider the in­tel­li­gence budget in a closed ses­sion on Wed­nes­day, with Dir­ect­or of Na­tion­al In­tel­li­gence James Clap­per testi­fy­ing.

On Tues­day, the Bank­ing Com­mit­tee will hold a markup of the Ter­ror­ism Risk In­sur­ance Pro­gram Reau­thor­iz­a­tion Act. And on Thursday, the For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee will hold a hear­ing on the situ­ation in Ukraine.

White House

Euro Tour

Pres­id­ent Obama will spend the week in Europe, look­ing to the past by pay­ing trib­ute to all that Amer­ica did to help lib­er­ate the con­tin­ent 70 years ago and look­ing to the fu­ture by of­fer­ing re­as­sur­ance to anxious al­lies that the United States will stand with them in any com­ing con­front­a­tions with an em­boldened Rus­sia.

The pres­id­ent will carry that mes­sage dur­ing four stops in three coun­tries. Leav­ing Wash­ing­ton Monday even­ing, he will spend Tues­day and Wed­nes­day in Warsaw, meet­ing with the lead­ers of Po­land and oth­er East­ern European coun­tries. Wed­nes­day night, he will ar­rive in Brus­sels for a meet­ing of the G-7 lead­ers. Thursday even­ing, he goes to Par­is, and Fri­day he will join oth­er al­lies at Nor­mandy to mark the 70th an­niversary of the D-Day land­ing.

Clare ForanGeorge E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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