Congress Reaches Pre-Recess Compromise With Deal on Veterans Affairs Scandal

House and Senate negotiators announced legislation Monday to address allegations of mismanagement of veterans’ medical care.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., at right, and House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla.
National Journal
Michael Catalin
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Michael Catalin
July 28, 2014, 11:33 a.m.

House and Sen­ate ne­go­ti­at­ors are un­veil­ing a nearly $17 bil­lion bill aimed at ad­dress­ing the prob­lems sur­round­ing the treat­ment of vet­er­ans in gov­ern­ment-run hos­pit­als.

Vet­er­ans Af­fairs’ Com­mit­tee chair­men Sen. Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont and Rep. Jeff Miller of Flor­ida an­nounced the out­line of their con­fer­ence-com­mit­tee re­port, which is ex­pec­ted to clear Con­gress and head to the pres­id­ent’s desk be­fore the Au­gust re­cess be­gins Monday. Miller said he ex­pects a House vote Wed­nes­day and pas­sage with sup­port from “a ma­jor­ity of the ma­jor­ity.”

The an­nounce­ment comes after tense mo­ments last week when Miller held a pub­lic hear­ing that Sen­ate Demo­crats de­cried as one-sided and polit­ic­al. Both Miller and Sanders, though, main­tained that the me­dia hyped the bad blood and that their talks con­tin­ued be­hind the scenes.

The biggest hurdle the bill would likely face is clear­ing the House, which has res­isted passing budget-bust­ing le­gis­la­tion. This bill in­cludes $5 bil­lion in off­sets, Sanders said, but also in­cludes $10 bil­lion in emer­gency man­dat­ory spend­ing.

Asked wheth­er he could per­suade his House Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues to back the bill, Miller said he had been in sales be­fore he came to Con­gress and that he was con­fid­ent in his abil­it­ies to sell the com­prom­ise. Asked if he would ex­plain how he could do that, Miller said flatly, “No.”

“As we go through the pro­cess there will be an edu­ca­tion pro­cess that will have to take place,” Miller said. “Ob­vi­ously some of our mem­bers will need a little more edu­cat­ing than oth­ers.”

The bill ap­pro­pri­ates $10 bil­lion aimed at let­ting vet­er­ans who face a wait for med­ic­al care to seek as­sist­ance in the private sec­tor. The meas­ure would also let vet­er­ans who live more than 40 miles from a vet­er­ans fa­cil­ity to seek care in the private sec­tor.

It also in­cludes pro­vi­sions that would make it easi­er for VA of­fi­cials to fire em­ploy­ees. Miller poin­ted to this pro­vi­sion as an area where he and Sanders, who ad­voc­ated for an ap­peals pro­cess, had to com­prom­ise.

Miller said he ex­pects the con­fer­ence com­mit­tee to com­plete its work Monday and that the House would likely vote first on the le­gis­la­tion. A Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide said the Sen­ate would likely vote in the lat­ter half of the week.

The an­nounce­ment of the deal comes as both cham­bers are pre­par­ing to leave town for their states and dis­tricts for a five-week-long re­cess. It also comes with the midterm elec­tion loom­ing large for law­makers, who want to avoid break­ing without passing a bill aimed at help­ing vet­er­ans.

“Fund­ing for vet­er­ans’ needs must be con­sidered a cost of war,” Sanders said.

Sanders and Miller de­livered the deal des­pite their polit­ic­ally op­pos­ite pro­files. Sanders, a so­cial­ist from Ver­mont, and Miller, a former busi­ness­man and con­ser­vat­ive from north­w­est Flor­ida, at times looked tense present­ing the le­gis­la­tion.

It was Sanders, though, who talked about just how dys­func­tion­al and par­tis­an Con­gress has be­come.

“It is com­prom­ise le­gis­la­tion,” he said, not­ing that it was very dif­fi­cult to reach a deal. “There’s been give and take on both sides.”

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