VA Secretary Nominee To Go Before Senate; VA Reform Bill Stalls
According to the AP/Chronicle, lawmakers' comments leading up to the hearing have indicated that McDonald will be easily confirmed (AP/San Francisco Chronicle , 7/21). However, observers expect the committee will question whether McDonald is prepared to take on significant issues at VA health centers (Klimas, Washington Times, 7/21).
For example, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who was the first senator to call for former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki's resignation, said he was "impressed by [McDonald's] candor, sincerity and commitment to serving our nation's veterans," adding that McDonald is "focused and ready to take on the many challenges that lie ahead."
Committee Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he believes that McDonald's "years of military service will make him a very strong advocate for veterans, and that his corporate leadership gives him the experience to bring about the management changes -- in terms of accountability and transparency -- that the VA needs" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle , 7/21). However, Sanders added he is "hoping to hear what Mr. McDonald would do to bring long-term leadership to the department" (Washington Times, 7/21).
Progress on VA Bill Moving Slowly
Meanwhile, progress on a bill to address delayed care at VA health centers has stalled while lawmakers debate how the measure will be funded, the Chronicle reports (AP/San Francisco Chronicle , 7/21).
Last month, House and Senate negotiators began working on a unified bill that would increase and improve veterans' access to health care following revelations that many veterans had faced long wait times at various VA health centers, which likely led to numerous deaths of patients. The work came after both the House and Senate passed similar bills (S 2450, HR 4810) intended to address the allegations. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Senate bill would cost $35 billion over three years, while the House bill would cost $44 billion over six years (California Healthline, 6/25).
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) criticized Republicans for being unwilling to spend the money needed to address the concerns. Reid said that although Sanders "has been working for well more than a month to try to get (Republicans) to agree to something ... [it] [l]ooks to me they're going to come back to nothing."
However, Sanders said he and House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) "are working very hard to reach an agreement" that he believes will be reached before the August congressional recess (AP/San Francisco Chronicle , 7/21). He noted that Senate negotiators "have agreed with the House that some [cost] offsets could be included in a final bill" (French, Politico, 7/21).
Miller added, "Had Sen. Reid bothered to talk with anyone involved in the negotiations he would have known that, but he obviously more concerned with playing politics than constructively contributing to this process" (AP/San Francisco Chronicle , 7/21). However, Miller conceded that an unanticipated $17 billion funding request from VA last week and other cost differences has made it hard to strike a deal on the measure (Politico, 7/21).
Biden Pledges Continued Work on VA Reforms
In related news, Vice President Biden (D) on Monday during a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention said the Obama administration would continue work on reforming VA, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
Biden said the administration recognizes there are "many, many" things that must be done to fix VA and ensure veterans are cared for when they return from service (AP/San Francisco Chronicle , 7/21). He called on Congress to "[s]top fooling around" and address the issues. Specifically, Biden said Congress should move "quickly to confirm ... McDonald and finish the work on the veterans legislation currently in conference" (Topaz, Politico, 7/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.