23 July 2014 Legislative News Update
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.
In this issue:
- Defense Authorization & Appropriation Bills Stalling in Senate
- Latest on the VA Healthcare Crisis
THE SAME OLD SONG AND DANCE
Any hope of the defense authorization and appropriations bills being passed before the new fiscal year begins is slowing dimming.
The House has already passed its bills. The problem lies within the Senate and it is (mostly) political. The Democratic leadership does not want to force its members to vote on any politically uncomfortable amendments thrown at them by Republicans before the November elections.
Congress’ preoccupation with the immigration crisis at the border and the Administration’s request for $3.7 billion to address it, the latest Israeli–Palestinian conflict and the downing of the commercial airline over Ukraine last week are also complicating factors. Throw the Pentagon’s $58.6 billion request for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) for fiscal 2015 into the mix as well.
The word from the Hill is that lawmakers have already resigned themselves to passing a continuing resolution (CR) that will fund the government past the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Aides indicate that the House leadership is considering moving a continuing resolution as early as next week. However, it is not certain whether some of the GOP’s more conservative members will accept it. They favor deeper spending cuts over continuing current spending levels. Over in the Senate, the CR could face a challenge from Democrats who would prefer to add funding to permit some increased spending.
A CR would require that all programs, except those exempted by law, would be funded at the fiscal 2014 funding levels and would prohibit any new program starts.
In any event, talk of a CR signals that, once again, Congress is incapable of passing routine bills. AUSA’s Resolutions for 2014 urged the Administration and Congress to “Authorize and appropriate funding in a timely and predictable manner to allow modernization without disruption according to multiyear strategies.” I guess it will be included in our 2015 Resolutions again.
HE SAID, HE SAID
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said this week that the GOP appears unwilling to spend the money needed to address problems with treatment delays and falsified appointment records within Veterans’ Affairs.
Reid said Monday that Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the bill's chief sponsor, "has been working for well more than a month to try to get (Republicans) to agree to something. Looks to me they're going to come back to nothing." Work by a joint House-Senate conference committee "is not being completed," Reid said.
Not so fast. According to a statement released by Sen. Sanders later that day, “Chairman Miller and I and our staffs are working very hard to reach an agreement. Given the ideological differences between the House and the Senate, these are very tough negotiations but I still hope and believe that we can come to an agreement.
“While the Senate voted 93-3 to pay for this bill entirely with emergency funding as a cost of war, we have agreed with the House that some offsets could be included in a final bill. In addition to providing funds for contract services in the private sector, it is imperative that the VA be able to hire the doctors and nurses and other medical personnel that are needed so that we do not have the same problems at the VA in years to come that we have today.”
Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee said that a temporary infusion of cash is needed to fix the VA's problems over the next two years, but a long-term solution requires a fundamental change in the way the department operates.
In response to Sen. Reid’s comments, Miller said that he was confident a deal is within reach if the two sides "remain focused on the issues that are within the scope" of the House and Senate-passed VA reform measures. "Had Sen. Reid bothered to talk with anyone involved in the negotiations he would have known that, but he is obviously more concerned with playing politics than constructively contributing to this process," Miller said.
Negotiators still hope to have a final bill in place before the August recess.