OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Senators strike deal to fix VA

THE TOPLINE: Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced compromise legislation to reform the Veterans Affairs Department’s embattled healthcare system.

Sanders, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, and McCain worked together over the last two days to reach the deal.

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The roughly $2 billion measure, which the two lawmakers touted on the Senate floor, grants the VA chief new powers to dismiss senior executives at the agency and expands veterans’ access to medical treatment.

The proposed bill incorporates provisions from legislation that overwhelmingly passed the House last month but keeps certain protections for public servants. It also features a GOP-backed idea that gives veterans a “choice card” that would allow them to seek care at a non-VA provider in certain cases.

“I would have written a very, very different bill,” Sanders said on the floor. “But right now we have a crisis on our hands and its imperative that we deal with that crisis.”

If approved by the full Senate, the new bill would have to be merged with the House’s legislation. Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), Sanders’ counterpart in the lower chamber, said “the proposal sounds promising.”

Paul Rieckhoff, head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said he was “encouraged” by the compromise bill but warned the president needs to “step up and take a more active role in restoring confidence within the VA.”

BERGDAHL DEBATE RAGES ON: The Obama administration went on the offensive over its decision to swap Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban commanders.

“I make absolutely no apologies for making sure we get back a young man to his parents,” President Obama said at a joint press conference in Brussels with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

White House communications director Jen Palmieri tried to downplay the uproar the trade has caused on Capitol Hill, saying: “We knew that was going to be a controversial decision.”

The pushback came after administration officials held a closed-door briefing on the prisoner exchange for senators on Wednesday night. Many lawmakers left the session unconvinced that the White House had made the right decision, even though officials reportedly told them that the Taliban threatened to kill the U.S. soldier if word of the negotiations leaked.

LAWMAKERS HEAD TO NORMANDY: Anumber of lawmakers are en route to Normandy, France, to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe.

Nine senators and 25 House members will make the transatlantic journey to commemorate the massive military landing that proved to be a turning point of World War II.

President Obama will lead the U.S. delegation through a pair of events on Omaha and Sword beaches, two of five landing sites that began the Allied invasion of Western Europe.

Other foreign dignitaries expected to be in attendance include Russian President Vladimir Putin and Queen Elizabeth II.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

-Excerpts released of Clinton memoir

-Acting VA chief: 18 vets kept on secret wait lists have died

-Chambliss: NSA reform bill would not have stopped subway bomber

-McChrystal weighs in on taking top VA position

-DOD names new Marine commandant

 

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