THE TOPLINE: House and Senate lawmakers reached a $17 billion agreement to revamp the Veterans Affairs Department.
The deal, rolled out by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSunday shows preview: Aftermath of failed healthcare bill Michael Moore warns Dems: Now is not the time to gloat Warren: 'Today is a great day... but I'm not doing a touchdown dance' MORE (I-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and his House counterpart, Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), could be voted on and sent to President Obama before week’s end, ahead of the August recess.
“We will probably not get a unanimous vote,” he admitted.
Sanders said he had spoken to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about having a vote “as quickly as possible.”
The legislation would grant $10 billion for veterans to seek medical treatment from non-VA providers and give the department $5 billion to hire additional medical staff. Around $1.5 billion would be spent on leases to utilize medical facilities at 27 sites across the country.
$12 billion of the bill’s costs would come from emergency spending, with $5 billion from offsets within the VA, including a provision capping employee performance bonuses.
The bipartisan measure would also give the VA secretary new powers to fire senior employees. Those determined to be underperforming would have an unpaid, 21-day window to appeal their dismissal.
"It goes without saying that we have a VA that is in crisis today, this agreement will go a long way to resolve the crisis," Miller said during a joint Capitol Hill press conference.
The compromise measure allows veterans to get care from non-Veterans Affairs physicians who participate in Medicare if they live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility, or if agency doctors cannot see them within 30 days.
A Sanders spokesman said legislative text of the bipartisan bill likely would not be available until Monday night. A quorum of the conferees would then have to sign off on the measure before it could be reported out of committee.
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LAWMAKERS VOICE SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL: Lawmakers from both parties on Monday pushed back against criticism of Israel and vowed to stand by the nation in its fight with Hamas.
"We're here today to stand with Israel," said Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at an event hosted by the National Leadership Assembly for Israel. "As long as I'm Speaker of the House, this will be our cause."
The Speaker was joined by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy (R-Calf.), and several other leading lawmakers.
The support comes as Israel enters the third week of its military conflict with Hamas. The fight resumed Monday, after a brief 12-hour ceasefire over the weekend brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry.
Hamas leaders say they won't stop targeting Israel with rockets until border crossings into Egypt and Israel are re-opened, and Israeli leaders say they will not stop until there is "peace and quiet" for the people of Israel.
Israel's Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, who spoke at the event, said Israel would continue to destroy underground tunnels used by Hamas regardless of a ceasefire.
Lawmakers defended Israel from critics who cited the high number of Palestinian civilians killed in the fighting, laying the blame with Hamas instead. The United Nations says a majority of those killed have been civilians.
So far, more than 1,000 Palestinians and at least 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed in the conflict, according to the New York Times. Click here to read more: http://bit.ly/1nALig2
National Security Adviser Susan Rice also spoke at the event, affirming the U.S.'s support for Israel.
A few minutes into her speech, a protestor stood up with a sign and yelled," The truth is, Israel is killing innocent people in Gaza!"
"Stop the violence, stop the killing!" he yelled to news cameras at the event, until he was forcibly removed from the room. Click here to read more: http://bit.ly/1k4HROM
HAGEL GETS UKRAINE UPDATE: Ukrainian Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey told Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel via phone on Monday that the situation in eastern Ukraine "continues to worsen."
"The minister attributed the increasing levels of violence, including the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, to direct Russian support for the separatists," said Pentagon Press Secretary Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby.
Russia was continuing to provide support for pro-Russian separtists in Ukraine, including heavy and sophisticated weaponry, defense officials said Monday.
About 12,000 Russian forces are bulked up by the border and are continuing to fire artillery at Ukrainian military positions.
Heletey "expressed his nation's interest in additional security assistance from the United States" during the call with Hagel, Kirby said.
"Secretary Hagel assured him that the U.S. government will continue to review all such requests within a broad interagency process, beginning with discussions through our embassy in Kyiv," Kirby said in a statement.
Defense officials are headed to Ukraine to review assistance for the country. Ukraine has requested lethal and non-lethal aid. So far, the U.S. has only provided non-lethal aid.
The call comes as the White House signaled that the U.S. and European Union would up sanctions on Russia this week. President Obama held a conference call with European leaders on Monday.
EU officials are expected to meet Tuesday and decide the scope of the new sanctions against Russia. Click here to read more: http://bit.ly/1nUb7Hf
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-Reid: ‘We can do better’ to help defend Israel: http://bit.ly/1k4Infr