Politics

House Republicans Pass Bill To Expedite Firing Of VA Employees

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Jonah Bennett Contributor

House Republicans pushed through a bill Wednesday by a 256-170 vote to expedite the firing of problematic Department of Veterans Affairs employees, amid complaints from Democrats and a veto threat from President Barack Obama.

The bill would provide VA Secretary Robert McDonald with the authority to fire any employee for either for misconduct or performance. Within 45 days of an appeal, the Merit Systems Protection Board would have to render a decision. This same authority would be limited if the employee claimed whistleblower protection through the Office of Special Counsel.

Several Democrats offered an amendment to rope in the firings, but the amendment was ultimately unsuccessful.

Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr railed against the bill for pretending to be about accountability. According to Pascrell, the bill is about politics, not accountability.

“What possessed you to bring this bill to the floor and use the word accountability, I’m trying to figure that out,” Pascrell stated. “This bill isn’t about making the VA better, or ensuring better care or treatment for vets. This is about trying to score some political points.”

“There are some bad actors,” he added. “I don’t want to take down the whole group. The reality is that the civil service protections available to these employees and all other employees actually protect whistleblowers.

But Republican legislators maintained that the bill does not strip employees of due process and instead provides a best-of-both-worlds scenario by making it easier to fire problematic employees.

“We need to be able to get rid of them,” GOP Rep. Ryan Costello said on the floor. “I hear those who are speaking about due process violations implicit or explicit in this legislation and I simply don’t see it.”

On Tuesday, Obama threatened to veto the bill, saying that while it believes federal employees should be accountable, the proposed bill “fails to provide tools to further that goal, and in fact would be counterproductive.” Officials at the VA have also registered opposition. Though the bill enjoys wide support from veterans’ organizations, the American Federation of Government Employees has requested that lawmakers oppose the bill, as it stands to endanger its employees. (RELATED: Veteran Community Backs New Accountability Bill, But This Union Of Govt Employees Stands In The Way)

Despite its passage in the house, the legislation is likely to face significant hurdles in the Senate, where Democrats will likely copy the objections of their counterparts in the House, namely that the bill erodes

Even if the Senate passes the act, there is little chance it would survive a veto.

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