Sanders: VA fix won't be paid for with food stamp cuts

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he and his House counterpart had a “productive” meeting before the weeklong recess in an effort to produce a conference report to address the VA healthcare scandal. But added that he wouldn't accept certain pay-fors.

“I think we had a productive meeting before leaving,” Sanders said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “We’re working hard on it.”

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Sanders said he is frustrated that some have complained about the cost of legislation that would allow some veterans to seek healthcare outside the VA healthcare system and give the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) secretary flexibility to fire those who falsified waitlist times.

“I think as a people — as a nation — we under estimate the cost of war and before anyone votes to go to war again I think they should fully appreciate what those repercussions will be,” Sanders said. “You cannot provide healthcare to tens of thousands of Americans in a short period of time outside the VA healthcare system without spending a lot of money.”

House Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Calif.) and Sanders are working to iron out differences in legislation that both chambers passed last month in reaction to reports that VA facilities falsified documents in order to hide long wait times within the VA healthcare system.

Some House Republicans have complained that Sanders’ Senate-passed bill costs nearly $50 billion a year according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). He and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) originally said their bill would require only $2 billion in emergency spending. 

McCain said Tuesday that they’re hoping to get a new CBO score soon.

“We hope to get the CBO scoring, new scoring very soon,” McCain said. “We really have the target of getting the conference done this week. Not the bill, but the conference.”

Sanders wants to use emergency spending to pay for the legislation rather than finding offsets through spending cuts.

“This bill is not going to be paid for by cutting education of food stamps,” Sanders said. “That ain’t going to happen.”

— Martin Matishak contributed to this article.

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