House chairman pushes to broaden funding for VA reform bill

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) on Tuesday said lawmakers may broaden their seach to pay for an overhaul of the troubled department. 

“We’re going to have to go outside of the VA to look for other offsets,” Miller, co-chairman of a bipartisan committee aimed at developing legislation to reform the VA, told reporters after the panel’s inaugural hearing

“It’s very difficult inside of the VA budget itself to find the necessary offsets because there are not many discretionary dollars available to use as an offset...We want to find the offsets necessary to pay for the legislation.”

Miller’s comments could signal a potential sticking point as he and 27 other House and Senate lawmakers work to reconcile their bills that would revamp the VA healthcare network.

While both measures give the VA secretary new latitude to fire incompetent executives, the Senate draft proposes nearly $500 million to hire additional doctors and nurses and calls for the construction of 26 new facilities nationwide.

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who hammered out legislation with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said the legislation would cost roughly $2 billion and would be paid for through “emergency” funding, an idea that has hit a brick wall with conservative House members.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently released a report that said the Senate measure could cost up to $50 billion, while the house draft would cost $44 billion, estimates panned by GOP senators on the panel.

Miller said the panel needs to get a “realistic number from CBO” but would continue negotiations.

He declined to give a timeline for the talks “because if we miss a date someone will call that a failure” but said that he hopes lawmakers would have the “parameters” of final legislation before Congress adjourns at the end of this week for the Fourth of July recess.