Early Thursday morning, it appeared that a compromise proposal which would address the scandal surrounding the Department of Veterans Affairs and improve vets’ access to medical services was likely to be passed by Congress.
The cost of the means to address the crisis at the VA had been a stumbling block for weeks. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee’s Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) said Thursday that his new proposal to improve access to health care for military veterans would cost less than $25 billion over 10 years — $10 billion less than a bill passed by the Senate in June.
The Associated Press reported on Thursday that the White House’s request to address the VA scandal started at $17.5 billion before it even addressed the issue of providing vets with expedited access to care:
The Obama administration says it needs about $17.6 billion to hire thousands of doctors, nurses and other health professionals, lease new facilities and upgrade its computers to reduce a backlog of veterans awaiting care at VA hospitals and clinics. The administration’s request does not include money to make it easier for veterans to get health care from private doctors, the biggest cost in Congress’s bills.
But the compromise appears heading for collapse. Politico reported on Thursday that congressional Democrats were livid when House Republicans called a snap conference meeting for noon. “They said that decision was made unilaterally by House Veterans Affairs’ Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) to offer a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ proposal with just days left before a five-week congressional recess,” the Politico report asserted.
The standoff is notable because Miller and Senate Veterans’ Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) agree on the basic outline of a reform bill: Expand private health care access to veterans that live near overburdened facilities and crack down on bad actors within the department. But both parties are haggling over how to pay for it — one of the most difficult tasks for Congress on any legislation given the lack of appetite for new taxes or spending cuts so close to the midterm elections.
In that committee hearing, Miller tore into acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson for requesting funding he said was aimed only at preserving the VA’s “perverse culture” rather than addressing the issue of access to care.
“Throwing billions into a system that has never been denied a dime will not automatically fix the perverse culture,” the chairman said. Miller asserted that the VA “can no longer consider itself a sacred cow.”
“Veterans are sacred. The VA is not,” he added.
A compromise bill aimed at addressing the VA crisis now appears set to fail with just days remaining before Congress adjourns for the August recess. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has laid the blame for a presumed failure of a VA bill at the feet of the president.
Boehner on @VA bill: I thought we were making great progress. Then the WH rolls in with a request for more spending.
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) July 24, 2014
“Senate Democrats refused to even show up and discuss bipartisan solutions, preferring instead to talk behind closed doors. That is shameful,” the Speaker said. “If President Obama cares about America’s veterans, he needs to pick up his phone out in California and tell Senate Democrats to get to work.”
If the White House thinks they can leverage the inaction of Congress on the VA scandal ahead of the midterms, presuming cynically but perhaps correctly that the public will not have followed the parliamentary machinations that led a compromise bill to fail, they should think again.
According to a recent Fox News poll, 57 percent of respondents believe the administration cannot competently provide care to military vets via the VA. It is unlikely that the public will blame Congress for the scandal involving the failure of the executive to manage a branch of the federal government.