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Senator Sanders and Representative Miller Break Stalemate on VA Reform Bill

By Ashley Ridlon

Friday, August 1, 2014

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Taylor Luckey Brennan contributed to this post.

The Bipartisan Policy Center applauds Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Jeff Miller (R-FL) for working out a much-needed compromise on Veterans Affairs reform. Senator Sanders and Representative Miller, the Chairmen of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, hammered out a weekend negotiation that many members of both parties can agree on. During this era of inflexible partisan gridlock, and with the August recess quickly approaching, the reform bill exemplifies the kind of proactive legislation America needs as Congress nears its final stretch.

Introduced in response to the debacle that came to light in April of this year, wherein VA hospitals allegedly falsified wait-time records to cover up shortages of doctors and sub-par patient care, the Chairmen’s compromise bill includes provisions that seek to expand veterans’ healthcare options for those who experience difficulty receiving care through the VA to include private care providers, lease new facilities and hire more doctors and nurses, thereby reducing wait times at the congested Department facilities, and give the VA secretary authority to dismiss employees on evaluations of misconduct or low-quality performance. The price tag of the healthcare system’s renovation and reorganization unsurprisingly found itself at the forefront of the VA debate. However, Sanders, who considers himself a socialist Democrat, and Miller, the self-professed “staunchest conservative in the House,” were able to put aside their ideological differences to find common ground on a worthwhile cause.

Admittedly, Sanders and Miller’s negotiations were no walk in the park; both representatives publicly pushed and pulled for certain provisions of the bill to be included or cut back. But in the end, they reached a solution. And while neither lawmaker is naïve about the fact that it may require a little persuasion to convince their fellow party members to vote in favor of the $17 billion bill (about $12 billion of which comes from emergency funding not subject to discretionary spending limits), the bipartisan legislation is expected to clear both chambers before this session lets out. Because this is an emergency involving our nation’s veterans, BPC understands that the bill offers only $5 billion in offsets. However, as these programs are reauthorized, we urge Congress to pay fully for the costs.

“First and foremost as a veteran, but also as a member of BPC’s Commission on Political Reform, I commend Senator Sanders and Representative Miller for proposing improvements in veterans’ health care and doing so in a bipartisan manner,” stated Chris Marvin, Managing Director, Got Your 6; Captain (ret.), U.S. Army.

The efforts of Sanders and Miller prove that “bipartisan” doesn’t have to mean nonpartisan and that there is space for compromise even within the existing party structure. Maybe opposites really do attract.

Taylor Luckey Brennan serves as an intern with the Bipartisan Policy Center Advocacy Network.


From the Americans with Disabilities Act to Campaign Finance Reform to No Child Left Behind and more, many significant legislative achievements have been successful due to cross-party collaboration. Rather than lamenting cooperation as a relic of days gone by, the Bipartisan Champions series will highlight current lawmakers who are working across the aisle and getting things done. By showcasing those who are putting partisan differences aside in order to put national interests first, BPC hopes to encourage more of this activity among our elected leaders in Washington, DC.