White House fears VA reform bill could mean 'significant litigation'

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The White House on Thursday provided a little — but only a little — clarity on the administration's objections to a House Veterans Affairs reform bill, saying provisions of it could result in litigation against the government.

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said he didn't know the specific reasons why the administration was concerned about the bill, which aims to make it easier to fire senior-level VA officials and sailed through the House in a 390-33 vote.

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“I don't know the specifics,” Carney told reporters when asked why the White House wasn't actively supporting the bill, which enables officials at the VA to more easily fire those deemed responsible for the allegations of mismanagement at veterans hospitals.

“I just don't have an itemization of some of the issues."

But while traveling to Cooperstown, N.Y., on Thursday, Carney provided reporters aboard Air Force One with a hint at the administration's reluctance to embrace the bill.

"We do have some concerns that some provisions could result in significant litigation, which would defer valuable time and resources from VA’s accountability efforts and its core mission of delivering quality services to our veterans," Carney said.

The White House spokesman also reiterated that the administration shared and supported the goals of the bill, and that the president was determined to punish those responsible for misconduct.

"We’ve been very clear we want to work with Congress on specific language issues and look forward to discussing the bill going forward," Carney said.

An association representing top-level government employees has complained that the House bill would eliminate due process protections afforded to top-tier government officials.

According to the Senior Executives Association, government employees are currently allowed to appeal firings and demotions to an administrative panel. The House bill would eliminate that recourse.

The group also expressed concerns that the bill would allow the department to scapegoat career civil servants in the media and interject politics into the firing process.

Senate Democrats blocked the bill Thursday, with Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) promising to revisit it after the Memorial Day recess.

"Your legislation has many important provisions which I happen to agree with. There are some I think need work on, and we are going to hold a hearing on that legislation and other legislation in early June," Sanders said.