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When Could the Senate Debate the VA Scandal? (Video)

(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senators have begun to talk about legislation designed to help remedy the controversy engulfing the Department of Veterans Affairs, but it isn’t immediately clear when they might have a venue for that debate.  

Senate Appropriations is scheduled to take up the fiscal 2015 Military Construction-VA spending bill Thursday, and it’s expected to be among the first appropriations bills to reach the floor this year. The Military Construction-VA Appropriations Subcommittee approved the bill earlier Tuesday.  

The VA spending bill would appropriate an extra $5 million for an office of inspector general investigation into the secret wait lists, while imposing a moratorium on certain VA bonuses.  

“The recent allegations of secret wait lists and long wait times at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in Illinois and across the country are unacceptable. This bill provides the VA’s Office of Inspector General an additional $5 million above the President’s request to get to the bottom of the wait list scandal,” subcommittee ranking member Mark S. Kirk, R-Ill., said in a statement. “This review … will ensure that no Illinois veteran will ever be subject to the misconduct of a secret wait list.”  

But spending bills have special rules governing debate that constrain the ability of senators to offer amendments that are legislative in nature. When asked if the Senate would permit the sometimes-derided practice of legislating on appropriations, Reid pointed to the rulebook.  

“That’s against the rules, so the answer to that would be no,” Reid said.  

Reid then volunteered that a VA health debate might happen in connection with the defense authorization bill, which is being marked up by the Armed Services Committee.  

“We would be happy to try to working something out on the authorization, which my understanding is that Sen. Levin’s going to work on that again this week, hopefully report it out really soon,” Reid said, referring to Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.  

In the weekly Republican address , Sen. John McCain called for two policy changes: one granting new authority to terminate VA personnel and another that would give veterans more options in seeking care.  

“We must give veterans greater flexibility in how they get quality care in a timely manner,” McCain said Saturday. “Veterans have earned the right to choose where and when they get their medical care. And it is our responsibility to ensure that they are afforded this option.”