- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2014

Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, introduced Thursday a GOP plan to fix the Department of Veterans Affairs, but said he’s not sure where negotiations stand now that both sides have proposals on the table.

Mr. Miller called a meeting of the Veterans Affairs conference committee, but Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and another top negotiator, said he had not been told about the meeting ahead of time. After saying Republicans were offering a “take it or leave it” proposal, Mr. Sanders did not show up to the meeting.

“I don’t know where the ball is right now, I wish I did,” Mr. Miller told reporters after the meeting. “He’s put something out, we’ve put something out. We’ll get back together Monday if he wants to do so to vote on something.”

But it’s unclear what they’d vote on. Mr. Miller’s plan would offer the VA $102 million for the rest of fiscal 2014. It would also give the department $10 billion of emergency funds that would never expire to be used to improve veteran care, including paying for outside care if veterans waited too long for an appointment. When the VA ran out of that money, it could come back to Congress to show what progress it had made and ask for more.

“It’s basically the Senate bill except it’s not all mandatory funding,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s a simple, straightforward offer.”

Any other funding would be doled out through the normal appropriations process under the GOP plan, meaning it would be subject to the spending caps and lawmakers would need to find the money elsewhere, Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Sanders, however, introduced his own plan Thursday on the Senate floor. The $25 billion Senate bill, with $3.3 billion offset, 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.

Democrats called the meeting a publicity stunt and most members of the caucus did not show. Mr. Miller, however, said he only scheduled the conference meeting to bring some of the negotiations that have been happening behind closed doors since the last meeting into the public eye.

“I thought four weeks was long enough for us to negotiate behind closed doors and that we actually show the American people that the House is willing to put money forward to pay for what’s going on,” he said. “There’s been some attempts to make it appear the House didn’t want to pay for any of this.”

Fourteen Republicans from the House and Senate attended the meeting, but only one Democrat showed — Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona, where allegations first surfaced of veterans dying while on long wait lists. She said she was not pressured by Democratic leadership to skip the meeting.

“I agree that we have to continue talking and we have to continue the dialogue because that’s how we get things done,” Ms. Kirkpatrick said.

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