VA nominee McDonald goes before Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama’s choice to lead the beleaguered Veterans Affairs Department is going before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for a confirmation hearing as Congress considers a bill to help the next VA leader do his job.

Based on comments by lawmakers from both parties, VA nominee Robert McDonald appears headed to easy confirmation. The path for the veterans’ bill is decidedly rockier.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid assailed his Republican colleagues Monday, saying they appeared unwilling to spend the money needed to address a VA crisis involving prolonged treatment delays and falsified appointment records to cover up long wait times. The Senate approved a bill last month authorizing $35 billion through 2016 to build new clinics, hire doctors and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care.

The measure closely tracks a bill passed a day earlier by the House. Since then, however, lawmakers have balked at the Senate measure’s price tag. Congressional budget analysts project it could end up costing the government about $38 billion a year – almost as much as the $44 billion the government now spends annually on medical care for veterans.

Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the bill’s chief sponsor, “has been working for well more than a month to try to get (Republicans) to agree to something,” Reid said.