Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 10, 2016

Sanders Negotiating for Bipartisan VA Bill

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., said he hopes to craft a bipartisan compromise to address to the lengthy wait times at VA hospitals.

“We are working on an agreement,” Sanders said.

He added that a committee hearing on the issue scheduled for Thursday was postponed, in part, to give more time for negotiations. Senate Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, unveiled their own VA plan Tuesday.

“I think what the hearing was about was to hear my proposal, to hear McCain’s proposal, if we could work out an agreement I think that we could expedite a situation that needs an expeditious resolution,” Sanders said.

Sen. Richard M. Burr, R-N.C., the ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, was hopeful a deal could be reached as soon as Wednesday.

“I think the longer [the negotiations go] the less likely it is” a deal will be struck, Burr said.

A senior Senate Republican aide said these talks are the more likely course for a solution, rather than a deal proposed Tuesday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., for a vote on a House-passed veterans bill in exchange for allowing a vote on Sanders’ bill.

Reid said Tuesday he doesn’t object too strenuously to the House-passed bill, despite concerns over the lack of due process safeguards. That proposal would give the VA secretary authority to immediately fire VA senior executives based on performance.

But in order to speed the process, Reid’s deal precluded the offering of any amendments, something Republicans were unlikely to agree to.

The Vermont independent’s package would authorize 27 new VA medical facilities and the hiring of doctors and nurses to reduce wait times, among numerous other steps.

McCain’s proposal 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.

“The issue is waiting times, the issue is how do we make sure that every veteran in this country can get into a VA facility in a reasonable period of time,” Sanders said. “And if they can’t what do they do, do they go to private doctors, can they go to other medical providers; we’ve go to work out the details. There are other issues as well.”

If an agreement is reached soon action this week will be difficult, as about a dozen senators are headed to Normandy Thursday for the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

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