- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2014

Negotiations on the VA reform bill imploded on Capitol Hill Thursday morning as House negotiators announced plans to introduce their own bill rather than work with senators in a conference committee.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent, said the House GOP will put forward its own proposal to reform the VA at a meeting Thursday afternoon – a meeting Mr. Sanders was not notified about ahead of time.

In the wake of a string of scandal regarding the oversight and management of the VA’s vast health care network, Mr. Sanders and House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, had spearheaded expedited talks on a major overhaul bill.

In sometimes angry remarks on the Senate floor, Mr. Sanders said the House move put the whole move to draw up a compromise bill in jeopardy.

“His idea of negotiation is we have a proposal, take it or leave it,” Mr. Sanders said. “Any 6th grader in a school of the United States understands this is not negotiation, this is not what democracy is about.”

The House and Senate both passed bills that would allow veterans waiting too long for an appointment or living too far from a VA facility to seek private care. The bills cost about $44 billion and $35 billion respectively, and talks stalled over if and how to offset the huge cost after one meeting about six weeks ago.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee announced that lawmakers involved with negotiating the compromise veterans reform bill would meet Thursday at noon. But a spokesman for Mr. Sanders said the meeting would not involve Senate negotiators. Instead, the meeting is a chance for Mr. Miller to introduce his “take-it-or-leave-it gambit,” the spokesman said.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a co-author of the Senate plan, asked both sides to “cool down” and said he planned to attend the noon meeting to learn about the House plan and have the chance to offer a counter proposal.

Mr. McCain went on to note that both bills overwhelmingly passed the bills, which are “strikingly similar to each other.”

“It’s a matter of money, it’s not a matter of the provisions of the bill and that can’t be the reason for us to not reach some sort of agreement,” Mr. McCain said.

Mr. Sanders offered Mr. Miller a $25 billion compromise bill last week, with $3.3 billion offset, that would include private care and increased firing authority for the secretary, as well as other provisions in the Senate bill like hiring more doctors and changing the G.I. bill.

Mr. Sanders said he has yet to see Mr. Miller’s proposal.

The disagreement does not bode well for finalizing a bill to send to the president before Congress leaves Washington at the end of next week for the whole month of August.