Majority of House GOP will back $17B VA bill, says chairman

The chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee predicted Tuesday that a majority of his conference will support a $17 billion bill to overhaul healthcare fore veterans.

“Oh, absolutely. Oh, yeah,” Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) told reporters following a GOP conference meeting.

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“I would not expect a lot of negative votes. Really, I have not heard a groundswell from the most conservative members,” Miller said.

Approximately $12 billion of the funding would be added to the deficit, something Miller on Monday acknowledged could cost the bill some votes.

But GOP leaders on Tuesday backed the bill and said they weren’t worried about the costs given the need to improve healthcare for veterans.

“We’re supporting this bill because we have serious problems at the Veterans Administration,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a press conference after the meeting. “And the $10 billion or so that we’re spending is there to ensure that our veterans that are stuck in long lines or live more than 40 miles from a facility can get access to private care.”

“This is about taking care of our veterans,” he added.

The House and Senate moved separate bills after reports found hundreds of thousands of veterans had waited months to receive appointments from the VA. Subsequent reports then found VA officials had covered up the long waiting times.

The compromise bill would give the Veterans Affairs secretary more authority to fire managers. It also provides $10 billion to allow veterans to seek treatment at non-VA providers, and another $5 billion for the department to hire additional doctors, nurses and staff. About $1.5 billion would be directed toward leasing 27 medical facilities across the country to provide the VA with more space.

Conferees to the bipartisan committee late Monday night agreed on the bill’s legislative text. All 14 House members approved the measure, but three GOP senators — John McCain (Ariz.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) — did not sign off on the bill.

The bill was filed late Monday night, meaning a full House vote on it likely will happen on Wednesday, Miller said.

“We’re just waiting for the closing date,” Miller, a former real estate broker, joked.

 

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