The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Tuesday will hold a confirmation hearing for Robert McDonald, President Obama’s nominee to lead the troubled Veterans Affairs Department.
McDonald, an Army veteran and retired Procter & Gamble CEO, was tapped to run the agency following the resignation of former Secretary Eric ShinsekiEric Ken ShinsekiFormer VA secretaries propose National Warrior Call Day to raise military suicide awareness Why aren't more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Biden's Cabinet? Biden VA pick faces 'steep learning curve' at massive agency MORE amid a scandal over fraudulent patient wait times and mismanagement.
McDonald has spent the last two weeks making the rounds on Capitol Hill, meeting one-on-one with members of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, as well as Senate leaders.
While early reviews have been favorable, McDonald will no doubt face tough questions about how he intends to reform the VA after months of scandals over its healthcare system, the treatment of agency whistleblowers and the mishandling of its massive disability claims backlog.
The confirmation hearing comes as House and Senate lawmakers wrangle over a compromise bill to revamp the VA’s medical network. The two chambers are split over how to pay for the reform bill, which comes with a hefty price tag. The House wants offsets, while the Senate version relies on emergency spending.
Efforts to reach a deal were dealt another blow this week when Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson told lawmakers the agency would need an additional $18 billion over the next three years to address growing patient demand and reduce wait times.
Negotiators began publicly criticizing each other this week, another troubling sign that the nearly monthlong talks on a reform bill could be at a deadlock.
Gibson will make his second Capitol Hill appearance in just over a week, when he testifies before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday. Members are likely to grill him on the funding request and the ongoing investigations into the VA’s health and benefits networks.
On the foreign policy front, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine will hold lawmakers’ attention. A number of Republicans have pressed for tougher penalties on Russia if separatists backed by Moscow are found responsible.
Congress will also focus on the security situation in Iraq, with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday hearing from officials with the Defense and State departments on options for helping Baghdad combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Almost 800 U.S. troops are in Iraq to advise government security forces there, as they try to stop an advance from the Sunni militant group.
Initial assessments delivered to the Pentagon this week said Iraqi military units had been infiltrated by ISIS supporters and rivals from Shiite groups, and cautioned that any embedded U.S. personnel would face serious security risks.
The House Foreign Affairs will also hold a hearing on Wednesday about Iraqi security.
The House Armed Services Committee will meet on Friday to examine the U.S. Navy’s amphibious fleet requirements, with Navy and Marine Corps officials slated to testify.
Off the Hill, on Monday, Iraqi Ambassador H.E. Lukman Faily will speak at the Atlantic Council on the dangers posed by ISIS.
That same day the Center for New American Security will hold a panel discussion on U.S. government responses to cybersecurity threats. The event will feature speakers from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
On Thursday, the Brookings Institution will host Rep. Randy ForbesJames (Randy) Randy ForbesDaschle Group hires first GOP lobbyist Overnight Defense: US sanctions NATO ally Turkey over Russian defense system | Veterans groups, top Democrats call for Wilkie's resignation | Gingrich, other Trump loyalists named to Pentagon board Gingrich, other Trump loyalists named to Pentagon advisory panel MORE (R-Va.) and Jim Langevin (D-R.I.) to talk about the role Congress plays in U.S. military innovation.
-Veterans bill in trouble after $17.6B request: http://thehill.com/policy/defense/212487-veterans-bill-in-trouble-after-176b-request
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-Senate panel moves to assist Syrian opposition: http://thehill.com/policy/defense/212563-senate-panel-moves-to-assist-syrian-opposition
-DOD officials defend $60B wartime request: http://thehill.com/policy/defense/212567-pentagon-officials-defend-60-billion-war-request
-Senators vow to reassert America’s rocket power: http://thehill.com/policy/technology/212440-pentagon-warns-of-vulnerability-in-space-program