Sanders pushes emergency funding for VA reforms

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Thursday implored House lawmakers to pay for a Veterans Affairs overhaul bill through emergency spending, not budget cuts.

“I hope very much that the House will agree with the Senate that we are in an emergency and that [it] is absolutely imperative we move as quickly as possible” to authorize funding, Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a floor speech.

“I hope very much we can avoid once again having a major debate about cutting food stamps, education, roads and bridges in order to fund the VA,” he added.

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Sanders’s comments get to the heart of what could be a major impediment to negotiations as House and Senate lawmakers work to hammer out a final package to reform the VA’s’ troubled healthcare system.

Both chambers earlier this month overwhelmingly approved legislation to fix the medical network. The proposed changes would include making it easier for underperforming executives to be fired, and allowing a greater number of veterans to seek treatment outside the VA network.

But the Senate paid for its version through emergency legislation, which means any associated costs are simply tagged onto the deficit. House lawmakers approved a similar draft but want costs to be covered by spending cuts, possibly elsewhere in the federal budget.

Sanders said he was “proud” the Senate voted 75-19 to waive a budget point of order against the VA bill before ultimately approving the measure.

He said he did not like to hear some lawmakers saying: “ 'Well, you want to fund VA healthcare you have to cut education, Medicare and Medicaid.'

“That is not the issue,” Sanders said. “Now is the time for us to defend those who have defended us and we’ve got to get this legislation moving.”

He did not provide an update on the conference negotiations.