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Dust-up Delays Markup of Veterans’ Health Bill

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, divided by infighting, today postponed action on a measure to extend veterans’ health care eligibility due to committee , but it easily approved several other bills aimed at supporting disabled veterans.

The Returning Servicemember VA Health Care Insurance Act of 2007 (H.R. 612) stalled amid arguments between panel Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) and ranking member Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) over a lack of sufficient consultation about the timing of the bill’s consideration.

Buyer blamed the delay on Filner’s alleged failure to properly consult with Republicans on the markup. Democrats showed “no intention to work with us, and I am deeply disappointed,” he said.

Buyer said that not only do Democrats need to give Republicans more input on the timing of markups, but the bill also needs more consideration in the form of a hearing. “I am concerned that the committee has not done its homework” on H.R. 612.

In an interview later, Buyer said there have been problems between himself and the chairman. “We’re having some bumps at the beginning here,” he told CongressNow. But Filner now understands that Republicans must be involved, he added. Republicans “brought a reality” to the chairman that the minority must be consulted in scheduling decisions.

Filner, for his part, explained that the delay had to do with the Congressional Budget Office’s failure to score the bill before the committee markup.

In other business, the committee approved by voice vote bills to address suicide among veterans and to increase compensation levels for disabled veterans. One bill, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2007 (H.R. 1284), sponsored by Rep. John Hall (D-N.Y.), would raise compensation rates for disabled veterans and their dependents to account for cost-of-living increases. Another bill, the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (H.R. 327), sponsored by Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), would direct the secretary of Veterans Affairs to develop and implement a program to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans.

The committee also approved the Dr. James Allen Veteran Vision Equity Act (H.R. 797), a measure offered by Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) that would increase compensation for veterans with eye injuries if they become legally blind. Lawmakers added various amendments to this bill, including a provision extending such coverage until 2012. The committee also included amendments extending a veteran work study program for two years.

But Filner commented that lawmakers would need to determine how to offset the cost of these amendments on the floor. Under the newly enacted “pay-as-you-go” rules, lawmakers must provide an offset for any increase in federal spending.

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