By Martin Matishak and Kristina Wong - 07/23/14 07:28 PM EDT
THE TOPLINE: Top U.S. officials warned Wednesday that a Sunni extremist group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq has morphed into a threat that is "worse than al Qaeda."
"It is al Qaeda in its doctrine, ambition and increasingly, in its threat to U.S. interests," Brett McGurk, deputy assistant secretary of state, told lawmakers at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. "In fact, it is worse than al Qaeda."
Elissa Slotkin, acting principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy, added that the group has threatened: "We're coming for you, Barack Obama."
ISIS has captured huge parts of both countries and threatened to move on Baghdad last month, leading President Obama to authorize deploying nearly 750 troops to Iraq.
Over the weekend, Attorney General Eric Holder said the threat of ISIS fighters infiltrating into the U.S. was "more frightening than anything I think I've seen as attorney general."
Former Defense Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge told The Hill Wednesday that the threat from ISIS has been "blinking red a long time."
"It's been blinking red but now it's flashing more frequently and is a lot brighter," he said.
"They've got a lot of fighters who are from European countries that are visa waiver countries, which means all they have to do is shave their beards and look like normal responsible civilians and walk into the United States of America without a visa."
"So it's a real challenge for our intelligence community to identify them and get their names on a watch list," he said.
VA DEADLOCK? Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) admitted Congress could fail to hammer out bipartisan legislation to overhaul the Veterans Affairs Department before the August recess.
“Clearly we’re running out of space here,” Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, told reporters. “If there’s a will, yes, we can do it. If there’s not a will, no, we will fail.”
The month-long talks between 28 House and Senate negotiators ran into a new stumbling block last week when Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson announced the department needs $17.6 billion in additional funds to cut down patient demand.
That figure comes in addition to a score by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that said the Senate’s VA fix would add $35 billion to the deficit over ten years.
Fiscally conservative House members have balked at the new request, however, Sanders argued that even if the two figures are taken together, any compromise bill would still be “significantly lower” than the CBO estimate.
“Nobody gets what they want,” Sanders said. “So VA isn’t going to get every nickel it wants.”
He said conferees could still produce a “strong bill” that includes “emergency contracting outcare” that lets veterans who have experienced long VA wait times get treatment from private providers.
It also could feature a GOP idea that allows patients to seek care from non-VA doctors if wait times are excessive or the nearest facility is more than 40 miles away.
Sanders decried the partisanship that has morphed Congress into a “dysfunctional institution.”
“The problem that we have in a dysfunctional institution is that you do not get the time you need to address issues,” he told reporters. “This is the moment where we’re going to have to address, in a very serious way, the needs of our veterans.”
PANEL APPROVES VA NOMINEE: Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee unanimously backed President Obama’s nominee to be the new chief of the Veterans Affairs Department.
The panel voted 14-0 for former Procter & Gamble executive Robert McDonald to run the agency.
His nomination now moves the full Senate where he is widely expected to easily win confirmation.
Panel Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said he planned to consult with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on a time when McDonald's nomination could be brought to the chamber floor.
“Obviously, we would like to get this done before the break,” he told reporters following the roll call vote.
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