- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

While there’s no bipartisan agreement yet, Sen. Bernard Sanders said Wednesday that both Democrats and Republicans have the same goal: getting veterans care as soon as possible.

The Vermont independent met with Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, on Wednesday morning to discuss a possible compromise between the Democratic and GOP bills to fix the Veterans Affairs healthcare system.

“I think Sen. McCain wants to see us make certain that veterans throughout the country do not have to wait in endless lines in order to get the healthcare that they need and I absolutely agree. My legislation does it a little bit differently than his legislation does, but they both have the same goal,” Mr. Sanders said following the meeting.

While the two senators met, a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Mr. Sanders‘ legislation scheduled for Thursday was postponed and a spokesman said there may be floor action Thursday relating to veterans issues.

Mr. Sanders introduced this week the Restoring Veterans Trust Act of 2014, which would allow veterans some ability to seek care outside the VA and give the next secretary more power to fire top executives, but would also make broader changes such as expanded access to alternative medicine and changes to GI Bill benefits.

The GOP alternative, the Veterans Choice Act, was introduced by Mr. McCain with Sens. Richard Burr, Jeff Flake and Tom Coburn. It would give veterans a choice card to seek private care if they had to wait too long for an appointment or lived too far from a VA facility.

The fundamental difference is that the GOP bill gives veterans the choice to seek outside care, while Mr. Sanders‘ bill leaves the decision up to the VA, Mr. McCain said.

Despite differences, Mr. Sanders said he is open to a compromise.

“There may be differences of approaches, but I think frankly those differences can be worked out,” he said.

Mr. McCain said the senators must be able to offer amendments on the bill, since the version from Mr. Sanders wouldn’t stand a chance in the House.

“If you just pass the Sanders bill, the House would not consider it, so we have to take that into account as well. We need to have, on an issue of this transcending importance, the ability of every single member to speak, amend and vote,” he said.

The ability to offer amendments has been a long-standing issue for Republicans, as Majority Leader Harry Reid has blocked out all amendments on several important pieces of legislation, including last year’s defense policy bill.

Mr. Sanders said his staff would meet with Mr. McCain’s staff later on Wednesday to try to work out the bills’ differences “as soon as possible.” Mr. Sanders is also scheduled to meet with Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, later today.

Mr. Miller has introduced a bill in the House that would require the VA to offer outside care to veterans who had to wait longer than 30 days for an appointment.