Miller Fires Back at Sanders After VA Talks Stall Over Money (Video) (Updated)
Updated 3:21 p.m. | House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., took issue with charges from Senate Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., that Miller was seeking to ram through a GOP plan to reduce wait times for medical care at the Veterans Administration.
Miller rebutted the allegation after a Thursday meeting of negotiators tasked with drafting a compromise proposal, which was boycotted by all Democrats except Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick of Arizona. He plans to hold another meeting Monday.
“I heard all kinds of rhetoric thrown around on the [Senate] floor today that this was a take-it-or-leave-it offer, not true; that we had not been negotiating in good faith, certainly not true. Sen. Sanders knows that,” Miller said. “All we wanted to do today was to come together in public, make the offer and leave, and that is what we just did. That is all that would have happened had the Democrats just come.”
Sanders recently proposed a $25 billion package that also included funding for capital infrastructure, additional staffing and information technology.
“Sen. Sanders is a good friend,” Miller said. “We want the same outcome and that is quality health care delivered in a timely fashion to our veterans. He has a belief that we can do it a different way. He has a belief that more money, more people will solve the problem.”
Miller stressed that the GOP proposal doesn’t close the door on additional funding that could be provided under the regular appropriations process. He also said the VA would be unable to spend the $10 billion in one year.
“We truly believe that the $10 billion is going to last more than a single year,” Miller said. “Then we say, ‘Let’s go through the normal process for the additional dollars.'”
Miller said he scheduled the meeting because Democrats have been saying that Republicans have not been willing to spend funds on the problem.
“This is the first public meeting we’ve had in four weeks,” Miller said. “The public needs to know where we are and they certainly need to know that the House is willing to put up $10 billion emergency, mandatory funding up immediately.”
Miller said that the VA has tens of thousands of job openings right now, yet is asking for more staff.
“They don’t have a way to determine what is an appropriate staffing level,” Miller said. “So that is why we are saying give us some time without the pressure of next week [the last week before the August recess] to go through a normal process for the appropriations.”
Miller said he expects to have a vote in the committee Monday.
Sanders has “put something out, we’ve put something out,” Miller said. “We will get back together Monday if he wants to do so, to vote on something.”
Miller said the House could move more quickly than the Senate, so the sooner they can agree the better.
“The clock is tolling in the Senate,” he said.
Leaving the conference meeting, Sen. Richard M. Burr said the offer from Miller and the House was a victory for Senate Democrats.
“Claim victory and take a win, Sen. Sanders,” Burr said. “He didn’t come to hear the proposal, so hopeful he’ll read it over the weekend.
“We’re at the point where there is no sense in continuing these conversations. What Chairman Miller did today was he said, ‘We accept the Senate bill.’ Were capping, because of a discrepancy with [the Congressional Budget Office] … We’re going to cap at $10 billion all of the choice programs,” Burr said of the House proposal.
“We’re going to get them exactly what they said they needed for the balance of ’14 and let the ’15 appropriations process take care of that,” Burr said.
Sanders, for his part, invited Miller to a last ditch effort to find a compromise this weekend so that action could be taken before the August recess.
“I say to Mr. Miller, trust me, I very much would [prefer] to be back in Vermont this weekend, believe me, I would. But I am prepared this weekend, I am prepared to be here tomorrow evening to start serious negotiations in terms of how we work out our differences so that in fact, on Monday or Tuesday, the House and the Senate can pass some serious legislation.”
Sanders dismissed the Miller plan as inadequate.
“The problem that we are having is absolutely outrageous wait periods in various parts of the country,” Sanders said. “And the reason you have those wait periods is we don’t have the medical personnel and the space to treat veterans.”
Sanders was also critical of Miller’s letter requesting Sanders join in convening the panel for a vote when no consensus has been reached.
“You cannot talk about a conference committee when someone says ‘I am asking you to join me in convening the conference committee for a formal vote on this proposal.'”
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a former chairman of the veterans panel said she believes negotiators are close.
“Both sides are not that far apart, and I hope we can all keep our veterans in mind and reach a solution. That’s what the country expects. That’s what our veterans expect,” Murray said.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this article.
VA Talks Collapse