- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2014

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

Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat, said six weeks of negotiation have been stalled by GOP posturing in an election year.

“Republicans today will announce that they’re foregoing the veterans conference committee and introducing a bill of their own,” Mr. Tester said on the Senate floor. “I had real hopes that this conference committee could rise above the political process.”

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 negotiations stalled over if and how to offset the huge cost after one meeting 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 Sen. Bernard Sanders, Vermont independent and chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said the meeting would not involve Senate negotiators. Instead, the meeting is a chance for Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, to introduce his “take-it-or-leave-it gambit,” the spokesman said.

“This is a sad indication that the House leadership is not serious about negotiations. We don’t need more speeches and posturing. We need serious negotiations – 24/7 if necessary – to resolve our differences in order to pass critical legislation,” Mr. Sanders said in a statement.

Mr. Sanders offered Mr. Miller a $25 billion compromise bill last week, 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.

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.

• Jacqueline Klimas can be reached at jklimas@washingtontimes.com.

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