- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

DENVER (AP) - The Veterans Affairs Department could get enough money to finish its budget-busting medical center outside Denver if Congress passes a stop-gap measure to avert a government shutdown, but final approval of the deal remained uncertain Wednesday.

The funding measure would let the VA transfer $625 million from other accounts in its own budget, the amount the department says it needs to finish a scaled-back version of facility in suburban Aurora.

The first vote on the measure could come Thursday in the Senate.

The money would come with strings attached, including a requirement that the House and Senate appropriations committees approve the details. Congress would also have to pass separate legislation raising the spending cap on the project.

The overall spending measure also faces obstacles in Congress, including an attempt by conservative Republicans to deny funding to Planned Parenthood.

Construction on the hospital would likely come to a halt at the end of the month unless Congress acts.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said Wednesday lawmakers appear to be moving toward a solution to fund the hospital, which is about $1 billion over budget, but he said the VA isn’t off the hook. He said the department still must hold people accountable for the mistakes and take steps to avoid a repeat.

“For now, this bill will help ensure the hospital will be completed for our veterans, in addition to offering certainty to the workers on the job site and protecting taxpayers,” he said in a written statement.

Work on the half-built hospital has continued under a series of short-term deals that applied only to this project. Congress has balked at a long-term deal to finish the hospital unless the VA fires those at fault and agrees to turn over future large construction projects to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The VA is investigating what went wrong. Several officials have been transferred and demoted, and one retired after being questioned under oath.

A Corps of Engineers investigation into what went wrong at the Denver project and three others said the VA repeatedly changed the design and square footage of the hospital. The report, released three weeks ago, also said the VA also used a complicated contract process that department officials didn’t understand, and that they adopted it too late in the process, leading to disputes and conflicting cost estimates.

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Follow Dan Elliott at https://twitter.com/DanElliottAP .

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