Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday said Senate passage of a bill to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs may depend on the willingness of Senate Democrats to allow an open debate on the legislation and consideration of amendments, something Democrats have been unwilling to agree ton many bills over the last year.
McCain spoke to reporters in the Capitol about his new VA bill, the Veterans Choice Act. Among other things, his bill would give veterans a card they could use to seek treatment outside the VA system if needed, and would make it easier for the VA to discipline and fire officials who falsify records to make it appear as though veterans are receiving treatment on time.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is calling for an open amendment process in the Senate on a VA reform bill, a request Democrats have rejected with other bills over the last year. (AP Photo/Matt York)
But McCain's bill, which is backed by other GOP senators, is different from one being offered by Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Republicans have already criticized Sanders' bill for not going far enough to ensure VA officials can be fired for failing to ensure veterans receive the proper care, which could signal a slow, bumpy road ahead for any VA bill.
McCain said the best way to get around these differences is for the Senate to hold an open amendment process, but even McCain admitted that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has failed to allow this with other bills.
"I believe… the amendment process and through debate, which Sen. Harry Reid has not allowed on other pieces of legislation, is vital, because there's a lot of good ideas out there," McCain said. "If Harry Reid will agree to that, I believe that we could get a Veterans Choice Act through this Congress in a week."
So far, Reid has not indicated any willingness to allow an open process, and seems intent on moving Sanders' bill through the Senate.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) spoke alongside McCain, and McCain even put in a pitch to have the retiring Coburn take over as the next VA Secretary. Former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned last week over the healthcare scandal.
Coburn told reporters that he rejects the idea that the way to fix the VA is to throw more money at it. He said Congress has given the VA enough money, but that the VA doesn't always spend it. Coburn also said the average VA doctor sees half as many patients as private sector doctors.
"Do we need more people or do we need the people there doing more work?" Coburn asked.