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Congress so far Unable to Compromise on Veterans Bill

Negotiations between the House and Senate on legislation to address the crisis at the Veterans Affairs Administration disintegrated on Thursday.
Image: Bernie Sanders, Jon Tester, Sherrod Brown
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, joined by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., left, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, center, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 24, 2014, about the Veterans Administration. With Congress scheduled to recess in a week, the chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees offered competing new proposals to fix a veterans health care program scandalized by long waits and falsified records covering up the delays. AP

Negotiations between the House and Senate on legislation to address the crisis at the Veterans Affairs Administration -- a version of which passed both houses of Congress overwhelmingly early this year -- disintegrated on Thursday, even as both sides insist they want to pass something before the August break.

This could put the veterans legislation on a growing list of problems Congress won't act to fix before they head out on vacation, including a bill to address the still-growing crisis of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border, before they leave for their month-long August recess; and a bill to keep the country's highways and bridges in working order is stalled.

The veterans bill isn't exactly controversial. Earlier this year, the House passed veterans legislation passed on a 426-0 vote. In the Senate, it passed 93-3.

"It is no great secret to the American people that the Congress today is dysfunctional and despite enormous problems we are getting virtually nothing done for the people of our nation," said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has been leading the negotiations.

The disagreement now centers on how much money should be spent to fix widespread delays in care that led to a number of veterans dying before they could receive proper care.

But the breakdown in negotiations is personal.

Sanders became visibly angry as he detailed how his counterpart in the Republican House, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Calif., called him at 10 p.m. the night before to announce his own version of veterans legislation and declare he wanted to vote on it the next day.

"That is not democracy. That is not negotiation," Sanders said.