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Mr. President, I come to the floor again to try to move forward on a bill with near unanimous support. In fact, with regard to the actual substance of the bill, within the four corners of the bill, it has unanimous support because it would advance 27 community-based health care clinics for veterans in the VA system immediately, around the country, which would serve hundreds of thousands of veterans in communities that absolutely need this type of expanded community-based clinic. Two are in my State--one in Lafayette, one in Lake Charles, LA.
All of these community-based clinics--including the ones in Lafayette and Lake Charles--have been fully authorized by the VA and throughout the process. They have been on the books. We have been planning on them and moving forward with them for some time. But they have hit a series of bureaucratic glitches.
For the Lafayette and Lake Charles facilities in particular, first they hit a big VA glitch when the VA just screwed up--and those are their words, not mine--just screwed up in the letting process to put out contracts to locate land and to build or lease these facilities. Because of that bureaucratic mistake, the VA lost a whole year in the process in terms of moving forward with these clinics that are fully approved, fully authorized.
During that year of delay, out of the blue CBO decided to score how these clinics are financed differently than it ever did before. I won't go into the weeds, but suffice it to say that under this new scoring method, it created a scoring issue, which it never did before. Well, that was an additional hurdle and additional point of delay to which we had to respond. We overcame it with a proposal that ensures the VA funds and handles this correctly so there is no scoring issue. The bill passed the House nearly unanimously. In fact, the vote in the House was 346 to 1. As the Presiding Officer knows, not much passes either body nearly unanimously, but this did with very widespread bipartisan support, 346 to 1. This is the bill which has come over here to get final approval.
With the addition of an amendment to help pay for any costs associated with the bill--and the amendment has been fully vetted and is supported in a bipartisan way--with the addition of an amendment, we have no opposition here in the Senate on the actual substance of my proposal, on moving forward with these 27 important VA clinics around the country, two of which are in Louisiana.
Unfortunately, the only objection that appears to reside here in the Senate is from the Senator from Vermont, Mr. Sanders, who does not object to this bill as amended, who does not object to the substance within the four corners of this bill, but who simply wants his much bigger, much broader VA bill passed. I applaud his passion to advocate for it, but there is significant concern with that much bigger, much more complicated proposal. There are 43 Senators, including myself, who have very significant concerns about that proposal.
I think it is really unfortunate for him to block something where there are no concerns--it has been vetted, it has bipartisan support, and every conceivable substantive issue has been worked out--simply to hold that as hostage for a much broader bill that has concerns and opposition from almost half of the Senate, 43 Senators. So I hope we can avoid that, and I come to the floor to ask for unanimous consent.
I think the American people want us to work together. I think the American people want us to agree on things we can agree on. There is a lot to fight about, there is a lot to wrestle with, there is a lot to disagree about, and we should work on that stuff too, toward an agreement. I am open to doing so with Senator Sanders. But in the meantime, I firmly believe the American people want us to agree where we do agree. Don't create disagreements that don't exist. They want us to move forward where we can move forward. They want us to make progress where we can and keep working on the rest.
In that spirit, I ask unanimous consent that the Veterans' Affairs Committee be discharged from further consideration of my bill, H.R. 3521, and the Senate proceed to its immediate consideration; that my amendment, which is at the desk, be agreed to; the bill, as amended, be read a third time and passed; and that the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table.
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Reclaiming the floor and reclaiming my time, I would say we all want to work very hard to help veterans. We all acknowledge that the health care and work claim backlog issues are extremely important. That is why I am very involved in all of those issues across the board. That is why, for instance, I am an active member of the claims backlog working group, working with the VA to improve that situation and proposing focused legislation. We all care very much about that.
But right now Senator Sanders' comprehensive bill has significant concerns in opposition--43 Senators, over 40 percent of the whole body. I do object on behalf of myself and the rest of those folks. I do commit to continuing to work on those issues, but I also express real regret that when this body is very divided on the important details of that bill--and the details do matter--we don't come together on something we agree on, and we can't accomplish a few important steps at a time.
Perhaps Senator Sanders thinks that if we do this, somehow it takes away momentum for his larger bill. I think that is nonsense. These 27 clinics in 18 States are important, but they are a trivial part of that broader bill. They are a trivial part of all of the proposals in that broader bill. I don't think it takes away any momentum in any way, shape, or form for that broader bill. I will continue to be just as committed and just as interested in VA health care issues and working down the claims backlog and everything else. These clinics are a tiny part of that. So he doesn't lose any advantage. He doesn't lose any momentum. We could move forward on something we do agree on and build from there. I think that is more reasonable and more constructive.
There is literally no disagreement among any of us in this body about these clinics. I have worked hard with several other colleagues to address every question and every concern out there. The amendment at the desk erases some of those concerns. We have covered the waterfront on this clinics issue in particular.
I am very disappointed that we can't move forward as a first step and agree on what we agree on. We disagree on enough. Let's agree on what we agree on. Let's move forward on what we agree on and pass these 27 clinics and start that progress and certainly continue to work on important compromise on the much bigger piece represented by the Sanders bill.
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