Updated 1:08 p.m. | Talks on a fix for the Department of Veterans Affairs' health care crisis have collapsed, after the lead Senate Democratic negotiator accused the top House GOP negotiator of a "take-it-or-leave-it gambit."
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., said House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has signaled he has abandoned talks after calling a noon meeting of the conference committee in an effort to ram a GOP plan through.
Sanders told CQ Roll Call he did not plan to attend the noon conference meeting called by Miller.
"It's not a conference. A conference is when two sides agree to meet. This was decided at 10 last night by the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs," Sanders said, adding he would be prepared to talk with Miller over the weekend.
“In the wake of the shocking scandal at the Veterans Administration, the House passed a bipartisan VA reform and accountability bill, and we’re ready to complete work on an agreement the president can sign. Unfortunately, Senate Democrats refused to even show up and discuss bipartisan solutions, preferring instead to talk behind closed doors. That is shameful. If President Obama cares about America’s veterans, he needs to pick up his phone out in California and tell Senate Democrats to get to work.”Sanders blasted the move in an earlier statement of his own.
“Instead of working constructively toward a compromise, Miller unilaterally called a 'conference committee meeting' to unveil his take-it-or-leave-it gambit,” Sanders said in the release. “This is a sad indication that the House leadership is not serious about negotiations. We don’t need more speeches and posturing. We need serious negotiations — 24/7 if necessary — to resolve our differences in order to pass critical legislation."
On the Senate floor, Sanders said Miller’s move was a low point in the talks.
“This is a proposal that nobody on our side has seen,” Sanders said. “My understanding is that he then wants to take this to the House on Monday and [hold] a vote.”
"Any sixth grader in a school in the United States understands that this is not negotiation, this is not what democracy is about," Sanders continued.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has also been involved in the talks, agreed that negotiations are in a difficult period, but suggested Sanders go to the noon meeting prepared to negotiate in calm fashion.
"I hope we could go to this conference at noon today and listen to the various proposals," McCain said in an effort to save the talks.
Sanders asked McCain to sit down with Miller and the ranking members to work out a deal.
“I’d be more than glad to do that,” McCain said, adding he hoped agreement could be reached Thursday.