Democratic Rep. [crscore]Tim Walz[/crscore] says that the recent relocation bonus scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs is so egregious that he’s willing to buck tradition and tackle public sector unions with Republicans.
Democrats usually side with public sector unions, a position brought into sharp relief by Sen. [crscore]Richard Blumenthal[/crscore]’s recent blocking of a motion for an up-down vote on the VA Accountability Act of 2015 in the Senate. (RELATED: Democratic Sen Blocks Rush Vote To Pass VA Accountability Legislation)
But Walz is so upset with the recent hearing — a hearing on senior officials pressuring subordinates out of jobs and then taking them for themselves to secure bonuses and relocation expenses — that he’s collaborating with House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman GOP Rep. [crscore]Jeff Miller[/crscore], The Star Tribune reports.
That collaboration, however, will stop short of ending public sector unions altogether.
“Getting rid of public sector unions is not going to fix the VA,” Walz told The Star Tribune. “If there are reforms that need to be done, I’m certainly willing to look at them.”
A hearing Monday on the relocation scandal finally killed Walz’s patience. Senior VA officials Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves decided to plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering any questions from the committee. (RELATED: Two Senior VA Officials Plead The Fifth Amendment At Hearing)
An inspector general report found that Graves misused her position of authority to receive a job with fewer responsibilities, the same high-level salary of $173,949, and a total of $129,467 in moving-related expenses.
At the hearing, Robert McKenrick, one of the employees reportedly forced out of his position, dodged any suggestions that there was significant and undue pressure from above to relocate. Miller reminded McKenrick of the penalties surrounding perjury, but McKenrick stuck to his story and attempted to his square his hearing testimony with what he had told the inspector general earlier. Antoine Waller, who was moved to the Baltimore Regional Office, was far more forthright.
“I do believe there was pressure for me to take another assignment,” Waller told the committee Monday. “It started with telephone conversations with Mrs. Graves.”
“At the time I was approached about the Baltimore Regional Office, I was not willing to accept voluntarily going to that regional office,” he added.
“So what happened?” Democratic Rep. [crscore]Corrine Brown[/crscore] asked.
“I was reassigned,” Waller said.
The exchanges at the hearing infuriated Walz.
“Nothing bothers me more than to see an incompetent person there,” Walz told The Star Tribune, referring to lackluster employees at the VA. “Whatever it takes to deliver the highest quality health care is the one we should choose. I don’t have an ideological dog that I’m tied to in this fight.”
Republicans have attempted to push the union-busting VA Accountability Act through both the House and Senate. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the measure.
In turn, Miller has signaled intentions to form more of a bipartisan consensus around reform. In an op-ed for The Hill, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America legislative associate Christopher Neiweem, an Iraq War veteran, chastised Blumenthal. He dismissed the argument that this accountability legislation will reduce protections available for employees and whistleblowers as nonsense, and criticized the argument that the VA Accountability Act will hamper recruiting efforts.
“The time has come to finally and emphatically support veterans over the powerful labor unions and the few bad employees who cause most of the problems — including veterans’ deaths — at the VA,” Neiweem wrote.
Similarly, after Blumenthal put down GOP Sen. [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore]’s attempt to push through reform legislation via a rush vote, VA whistleblower Joseph Colon reprimanded Blumenthal for putting union interests above veterans. (RELATED: Whistleblower To Sen. Blumenthal: Quit Standing Up For Unions Over Veterans)
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