Congressional Democrats have blocked — for now — controversial legislation that would offer military veterans more access to for-profit health care at taxpayer expense, a noteworthy setback to the Trump administration’s legislative agenda and for one of the president’s core constituencies.
It’s unclear what will become of the Caring for our Veterans Act, which on Monday appeared to be headed into the budget with a compromise plan supported by the White House and eight major veterans advocacy groups. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “put the brakes on the legislation,” according to congressional aides in both parties who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks remain sensitive. She and other Democrats are concerned that the bill would diminish congressional oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs, that it would go too far in outsourcing care and that it would not address some of agency’s biggest problems.
“It won’t reduce wait times and won’t make the VA easier to use,” said a House Democratic aide.
The legislation, which is popular within the White House but viewed skeptically among some veterans groups and Democrats, is a priority for Trump and has become part of the bitter fight over VA Secretary David Shulkin’s standing in the administration. Shulkin, the only Obama-era holdover in Trump’s Cabinet, has fallen from favor with the White House in part over his reluctance to more fully support outsourcing veterans care.
House Veterans’Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn), who worked on the compromise last weekend, has requested a conversation with Pelosi, “though that conversation has not yet taken place to my knowledge,” an aide in Roe’s office said Tuesday evening.
Roe’s aide said the congressman addressed some of Pelosi’s concerns in a letter urging her to support the legislation. The letter outlines the extensive work lawmakers performed in coordination with veterans groups and other stakeholders, and that the compromise went through “rigorous” review.
The compromise would continue to fund improvements for VA while also offering veterans more options.
It’s unclear what will happen if the Caring for our Veterans Act is not included in the omnibus bill that covers federal spending for the rest of this fiscal year, legislation that must be passed before midnight Friday to avoid a government shutdown. The measure could be introduced as a separate bill in the future
, aides and veterans advocates said, but the 11th-hour uncertainty has proved disappointing given the months of effort to reach a deal.
The compromise was something “we can live with,” said Garry J. Augustine, executive director of the 1.3 million-member Disabled American Veterans. “And we are disappointed by the holdup. This is something we’ve worked really hard on, and we’ve tried to come up with compromises on getting [this] right.”
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