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Posted at 4:59 p.m. on June 3, 2014
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., offered Senate Republicans a vote on a House-passed veterans bill in exchange for allowing a vote on a Senate Democratic bill Tuesday, but questions over amendments could stifle action.
“I hope they accept this offer so we can take action to address the problems of the [Department of Veterans Affairs] this week,” Reid said.
The Nevada Democrat said he had not yet heard a response from Republicans.
Reid said the the cost of the bill being drafted by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., shouldn’t be an issue given the urgent need to address VA health wait times.
“If there were ever anything that’s an emergency this is it,” Reid said. And “it does take care of the vets; not everything they need, but it’s money well spent. If we can spend well more than $1 trillion just in the Iraq war on our credit card certainly the veterans deserve a few dollars to help take care of them right now.”
The House bill would give the VA secretary authority to immediately fire VA senior executives based on performance, but lacks due process safeguards that Democrats believe are needed.
Reid’s offer comes as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and a group of other Republicans unveiled their own bill to fix the VA.
It would allow veterans to seek medical care outside of VA centers and also implement systemic changes to the VA. It also includes the House-passed measure. The proposal requires to the VA secretary to establish penalties and procedures for employees who falsify data, modify performance plans and consider outside reviews.
But it’s unclear if McCain’s bill will be part of the picture as Reid has been reluctant to allow many amendments to legislation on the floor.
McCain told a group of reporters after unveiling his bill that he was concerned that Reid would block it. McCain said of the Sanders bill, “If that’s the bill that’s going forward, let us propose a substitute.”
When asked about the possibility of amendments to the Sanders bill, Reid said only a vote on the House and Sanders’ bills was the current offer.
“That’s the proposal I made,” Reid said.
“I would hope that the Republicans care about the veterans more than this mantra that they have been talking about gives them an excuse to kill everything,” Reid said.
“It would seem to me what we should do is try to do something to help the veterans,” Reid continued. “The House bill is not terrible, it doesn’t have the due process I would like, but we could probably live with that. I can at least. And we have the Sanders bill … Perfection is something that doesn’t always exist in legislation so I would hope that we could at least pass these two things that I’ve talked about.”
Reid argued that there is no time for amendments because Republicans have slow-walked nominations in a protest against the Democrats’ use of the nuclear option last year prohibiting a minority from blocking nominees.
The Senate has been slowly clearing a raft of nominations, including several this week. Among the nominees is Sylvia Mathews Burwell to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, who Reid said he expects to be confirmed early Thursday.
He also noted that there is a delegation of about a dozen Senators headed to Normandy, France, Thursday for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, which also puts constraints on the time for debate.
Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.