House votes to create VA conference panel

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The House on Wednesday voted to establish conference negotiations to reconcile legislation to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The motion to set up a conference committee, approved by voice vote, would allow negotiators to smooth out differences between House and Senate versions and produce a unified bill.

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Shortly after the vote, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) named eight Republicans to the conference committee: House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (Fla.), Doug Lamborn (Colo.), Phil Roe (Tenn.), Bill Flores (Texas), Dan Benishek (Mich.), Mike Coffman (Colo.), Brad Wenstrup (Ohio) and Jackie Walorski (Ind.). 

"I'm confident our negotiators will usher these reforms to the president's desk while continuing our work to hold him accountable," Boehner said in a statement.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) named six House Democrats to the panel: House Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Michael Michaud (Maine), Corrine Brown (Fla.), Mark Takano (Calif.), Julia Brownley (Calif.), Ann Kirkpatrick (Ariz.) and Tim Walz (Minn.).

"Democrats will continue to push for meaningful reforms to increase accountability at the VA and ensure that all veterans have access to the health care they have earned," Pelosi said in a statement.

Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he hoped conferees from his chamber could be named as soon as this week.

Last week, the House passed legislation that would allow veterans to receive medical care from private doctors if wait times exceed the department's goal or they live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. The motion to go to conference also includes the text of a bill that gives the VA secretary expanded authority to fire senior executives for poor performance.

Just about 24 hours later, the Senate passed a bill that would similarly allow veterans to seek care from non-VA doctors on the department's dime if wait times are excessive or the nearest facility is more than 40 miles away.

The Senate bill would also give the VA secretary expanded powers to fire senior executives for poor performance and provide $500 million to hire more doctors and nurses. 

This post was updated at 3:30 p.m.