Senate Vote Awaited on Jeff Miller-Marco Rubio VA Reform Bill

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: May 23, 2014 3:55 AM
Jeff Miller and Marco Rubio

Jeff Miller and Marco Rubio

With the U.S. House overwhelmingly supporting U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller’s, R-Fla., bill allowing the VA secretary to fire and demote department officials, focus now turns to the U.S. Senate where U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is the chief sponsor. Even as the VA is under fire for having secret wait lists at medical facilities and calls are growing for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation, Miller, the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, achieved a big win with his bill passing 390-33 on Wednesday.

After the House passed Miller’s bill, Rubio called upon U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to bring the Senate version up for a vote.

“People at the VA need to be held accountable,” Rubio said on Wednesday. “And yes, people should be fired for such gross incompetence and negligence – something my VA reform bill with Congressman Jeff Miller would do.

“It’s been a privilege working with Congressman Miller on this VA reform effort, and I thank him for his work in getting the bill passed in the House,” Rubio added. “Now that the House has moved to reform the VA, the Senate must act, too. We owe it to our veterans.”

Rubio said Reid and other Democrats were acting as a roadblock.

“All that’s standing in the way right now is Harry Reid making accountability and reform of our nation's VA system a priority, and bringing up this legislation for a Senate vote,” Rubio said. “President Obama being ‘madder than hell’ about this doesn’t fix the problem. The least the president can do is demand that the Senate send him this bill to sign into law.”

The White House backtracked slightly from its previous opposition to the bill. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked on Wednesday about the Obama administration’s opposition to it and he said there were minor quibbles with the bill.

“I don’t know the specifics,” Carney said. “I know that the goal of empowering the secretary to be able to hold folks accountable is one that we share. And we’ve also directed the secretary -- the president has -- to make sure that he is making use, maximum use of all the tools already available to him to hold folks accountable. I know that we’re discussing with Congress this legislation and concerns that we have with it that are relatively small vis-à-vis the broader goal, which is to make sure that there’s an ability to hold folks accountable.”

Miller weighed in on Thursday, urging the Senate to follow the House’s lead.

“The House has voted to take an important first step toward ending the culture of complacency that is jeopardizing patient safety within the Department of Veterans Affairs health-care system,” Miller said. “VA’s widespread and systemic lack of accountability is exacerbating all of its most pressing problems, including the department’s stubborn disability benefits backlog and a mounting toll of preventable deaths – including 23 recent fatalities due to delays in care – at VA medical centers across the country. While the vast majority of the department’s more than 300,000 employees and executives are dedicated and hard-working, VA’s well-documented reluctance to ensure its leaders are held accountable for negligence and mismanagement is tarnishing the reputation of the organization and may actually be encouraging more veteran suffering instead of preventing it.

“With all the problems VA hospitals and regional offices have recently had and new issues continually arising, we need to give the VA secretary the authority he needs to fix things,” Miller added. “That’s what my bill would do, and I applaud my colleagues in the House for supporting it. Now the Senate is faced with a stark choice: stand with veterans who rely on VA health care or stand with poorly performing bureaucrats entrenched in a dysfunctional personnel system. For the sake of our veterans, I hope the Senate chooses wisely.”

Even though Rubio’s bill has the backing of some Democrats — including U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. — his efforts to move it quickly through the Senate fell apart Thursday as the Veterans Affairs Committee did not place it on the fast track. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., said he wanted to hold a hearing on Rubio's bill."

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com.

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