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Posted at 11:17 a.m. on July 16, 2014
A few weeks ago, it would have been unthinkable that Congress would leave for August recess without sending a VA health care bill to President Barack Obama’s desk.
But Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would not rule out that possibility of gridlock over how to alleviate the crisis at the Department of Veterans Affairs as House and Senate conferees continue to talk.
“I would think if the, this conference goes on much longer, I think [the House] should just take what we’ve passed in the Senate,” the Nevada Democrat said. “It was a good piece of legislation, and it passed overwhelmingly here.”
That response isn’t likely to prompt an enthusiastic response, but Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a conferee and key negotiator on the Senate-passed bill, said the contours of the disagreement had not changed much.
“It’s a little slow because we’re wrestling with this … number, and we’re trying to make some adjustments because of the concern that people have on the, you know, on the overall cost,” McCain said, referring to an ongoing disagreement about the Congressional Budget Office’s scoring of proposals.
Speaking with reporters, Reid said that he has had conversations about the state of the talks this week with both Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Rob Nabors, the deputy chief of staff at the White House who has been detailed to the VA to deal with crisis response.
McCain said that any number of proposals had been floated to pare down the price tag of the package, but he resisted the idea of reducing expanded access to outside care.
“Some say, ‘do away with the 40 mile requirements.’ Some say, ‘do away with other aspects of it,’ but people like me believe that choice is the heart of the matter,” McCain said. “In other words, if you delete that, all you’re doing is throwing money … at a problem that won’t be resolved.”
“I still believe that everybody understands that we have to get this resolved before we go out on August recess,” McCain said, adding that of the broader VA scandal “this thing is a centipede and other shoes will drop.”