The U.S. House of Representatives took steps this week to address the Veterans Affairs scandal by passing a bill that would make it easier for the VA chief to remove or discipline problematic employees.
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary may remove any individual from the Senior Executive Service if the Secretary determines the performance of the individual warrants such removal,” the two-age bill, known as H.R. 4031, reads.
The measure managed to pass the House Wednesday with overwhelming support from U.S. lawmakers, securing some 390 votes in favor, despite opposition from 33 Democratic representatives.
Considering that H.R. 4031 seeks only to grant the VA chief power to work around the bureaucratic red tape normally associated with the removal of troublesome federal workers, a few pundits were left confused by the 33 “nay” votes.
Remarks made prior to the vote by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House Democratic whip, could shed some light on opposition to the bill.
“None of us ought to be for turning a civil service system — one of the best in the world, if not the best in the world — into a system which allows for no reason that needs to be articulated to turn senior executives into at-will employees,” the Maryland congressman said. “This legislation is about a knee-jerk reaction to a bad situation, painted with a very broad brush, and undermining a system that can work, has worked, and has the mechanism to work.”
“I cannot support this bill as written, and I believe it opens the door to a slippery slope of undoing the careful civil service protections that have been in place for decades,” he added. “With regard to protections that have been put in place for decades to ensure that politically appointed managers cannot fire nonpolitical senior executives in federal service without proper cause, neither party ought to be for that.”
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) added to Hoyer's thoughts, explaining his own worries about the bill.
The "bill before us today is a fake solution and provides no real fix to the fundamental problems at the VA. Its stated purpose is to hold senior level employees accountable by giving the VA Secretary the authority to terminate them at-will," he said Wednesday before the final House vote.
"[T]his bill merely provides a knee-jerk public relations response to a serious problem, and glosses over the real systemic issues we need to address at the Veteran’s Administration," he added.
TheBlaze reached out to the other 31 Democratic lawmakers who voted against the bill.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) voted "nay" because he was worried that the bill would undo certain civil service protections, a person familiar with the situation told TheBlaze.
Further, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) said in a statement: “[T]his bill dismantles our nation's civil service protections, converting it back into a political patronage system. The protections of our civil service system have been in place for over a century and have been essential in preventing widespread firings without cause motivated by politics."
"Although the bill responds to a temporary political crisis, it does not address the problem of long wait periods for our veterans…Because the bill does not address the underlying issues at the V.A. and has serious long term implications for the civil service system, I voted no,” the statement added.
Of the other 29 Democratic lawmakers contacted by TheBlaze, staffers for Reps. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), George Miller (D-Calif.), and Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) directed all inquiries to the voicemails of communications directors.
A person connected to the office of Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) told TheBlaze: “I can’t speak on behalf of the congressman.”
Separately, when asked for an explanation for Rep. Luis Gutiérrez’s (D-Ill.) “nay” vote, the congressman’s director of communications said that he'd “look into it.”
Rep. Jim Moran’s (D-Va.) communications director said, “I’ll see what I can find for you.”
A person in Rep. Jim McDermott’s (D-Wash.) office told TheBlaze that they would pass along all inquiries to the congressman’s director of communications.
Meanwhile, spokespersons for Reps. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said that they would get back to TheBlaze with an explanation.
The office of Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) hung up on TheBlaze.
Lastly, the offices of Reps. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), John Dingell (D-Mich.), Donna Edwards (D-Md.), Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.), Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.), Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.), John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Jose E. Serrano (D-N.Y.), Albio Sires (D-N.J.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) asked that all inquires be addressed to the appropriate spokespersons via email. TheBlaze addressed the “nay” votes in written emails to each of these lawmakers' offices. None of the emails have been answered.
With the exception of Reps. Hoyer, Van Hollen, Ellison and Clark, no Democratic lawmaker has attempted to explain their opposition to H.R. 4031.
Here’s the text of the bill:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was blocked Thursday from bringing the House's VA bill to the floor by senators who said they'd prefer to debate the two-page bill sometime in "early June." The bill is not finished. Rather, it has been pushed back for debate.
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This post has been updated.