A Republican attempt to pass a bill making it easier to fire incompetent Veterans Affairs officials was blocked in the Senate on Thursday.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) went to the Senate floor to ask that the Senate quickly approve the House VA bill that was passed on Wednesday. That bill is aimed at letting the VA more quickly fire senior VA officials responsible for the healthcare scandal involving long wait-times faced by veterans seeking medical treatment.
“I’ve come to this floor here today to give my colleagues the opportunity to send this to the president before we leave for the Memorial Day recess,” Rubio said. “We have an opportunity right now to take up the bill that the House just passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, enact it into law by unanimous consent, and send it to the president so he can sign it.”
Rubio added that passing the bill today would let the VA more quickly fire officials once the VA’s Inspector General issues a full report on the problem and VA’s attempt to cover it up.
But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) objected to that request. Sanders said that while he agrees with many pieces of the House bill, the Senate has not held a hearing on it.
“Some of us are old-fashioned enough to know that maybe folks in the Senate might want to know what is in the bill before we voted on it,” he said.
“I do not want to see an enormous amount of paperwork and obstruction go forward before we can get rid of incompetent people,” he added. “But before we vote on legislation, it might be a good idea to understand the full implications of that legislation.”
Sanders, who chairs the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said he would hold a hearing on the bill when the Senate returns in late June.
“So I respectfully object to that legislation right now,” he said.
Rubio scoffed at these arguments, and said the Senate was missing a chance to do something about the scandal in time for Memorial Day. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) also blasted the decision to block the bill.
“As we head into the Memorial Day weekend, I am disappointed, and – frankly – shocked that Senate Democratic leaders chose to block legislation that would hold VA managers accountable, which passed the House with strong support from both parties,” he said.
“As we head home to honor the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedom, it’s fair to ask why Senate Democrats won’t stand up for more accountability?”