A Republican senator tried to pass a primarily democratic-backed bill Thursday by scheduling an unusual last-minute, outside-the-hearing-room vote.
Sen. [crscore]Johnny Isakson[/crscore], Georgia Republican and chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs (VA) Committee, alerted members of the committee Thursday morning that they would be taking a vote “off the Senate floor” at a time “to be determined” later that day.
The purpose is to pass a bill about how to treat misbehaving VA employees, and was written based on the desires of the employees union that advocates for these people. The latest version has been so watered down it won’t even agree to limit yearly bonuses to $360 million for department employees.
The text of the 400-page bill was released only hours before the vote, virtually guaranteeing that the rank-and-file members of the committee had no time to read what they were voting on.
The bill has 23 Democratic co-sponsors and only eight Republican ones, yet Isakson is pushing it through the Republican-controlled Senate, claiming that a version favored by conservatives was the one that didn’t have enough votes to pass.
The Senate’s bill focuses mainly on making it slightly easier to discipline about 350 top managers. Language dealing with the other 99.9 percent of the VA’s 350,000 employees was walked back after the American Federation of Government Employees expressed its displeasure at an earlier draft, which was provided to them by a member of the committee before the public had seen it. (RELATED: Senate Caves To All Of Union’s Demands on Veterans Affairs Firing Bill)
The version they are voting on Thursday further removes a provision that was in the first and second drafts, which would cap bonuses at a total of $360 million annually — hardly a restrictive ceiling. Bonuses are what incentivized VA employees to falsify data to show vets were getting healthcare promptly, when in fact they were not, and sometimes died waiting for care.
Republicans previously promised, “We will give all Representatives and citizens at least three days to read the bill before a vote.”
The chairman from the ruling party ironically appears to be using aggressive parliamentary tactics — but not to ram his party’s favored legislation through the chamber. He instead wants to ensure the bill that is not supported by the majority party sneaks through, other Senate Republicans said.
“This is being done against normal procedure to hide the fact that this bill was written by the Dems and the unions and being rushed through without time for debate,” a senior Republican aide told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Why is the Senate Vets Committee not able to conduct a vote on accountability in public? And why does it have so little GOP support: there are 23 Dem cosponsors and only 8 GOP cosponsors?”
Normally hearings are scheduled weeks in advance and take place in the committee’s designated hearing room, where cameras are set up to live-stream, leaving time for reporters and groups affected by the bill to travel there.
Committee spokeswoman Lauren Gaydos was terse on why an accountability bill was held in such unusual circumstances, saying only that the several-hours notice met the letter of the rules, and declined to address why her Republican boss was moving a Democratic bill.
“Per Senate rules we are holding a public markup in the Capitol today,” she said.
The House previously passed a bill in July 2015 making it easier to fire bad apples among the VA’s employees, responding to major scandals where perpetrators were promoted and got bonuses instead of being punished. (RELATED: This Group And Its Law Firm Keeps Bad Apples In Government, Making Big Money In The Process)
Gaydos justified the Senate counterpart’s focus on decreasing lifetime job security for mainly the tiny top sliver of VA employees by saying “It’s the career senior executives who are more responsible than anyone for setting the tone of the workplace and maintaining the culture at the VA.”
House Republicans and many Senate Republicans, including Sen. [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore], fear that passing an accountability bill that has been rendered toothless through too much compromise with union interests will give a false sense that the problem has been solved.
They also say they don’t see why a Democrat-favored bill is any more feasible than a Republican-led one in a chamber with a conservative majority. Gaydos previously said the House bill “simply does not have the requisite 60 votes to pass the Senate.” If the Senate doesn’t pass a bill mirroring the House one, it won’t become law until the differences can be reconciled somehow.
The ranking Democrat on the committee is [crscore]Richard Blumenthal[/crscore] of Connecticut. The union has said it will help him politically because of his efforts to preserve job security for VA employees.
The Republicans joining with Democrats on the weaker bill are Sens. [crscore]Thom Tillis[/crscore] of North Carolina, [crscore]Mike Rounds[/crscore] of South Dakota, [crscore]John Boozman[/crscore] of Arkansas, [crscore]Dean Heller[/crscore] of Nevada, [crscore]Steve Daines[/crscore] of Montana, [crscore]Dan Sullivan[/crscore] of Alaska, [crscore]Jerry Moran[/crscore] of Kansas, and [crscore]Roy Blunt[/crscore] of Missouri.
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