VA deal raises Sanders’ Senate stature

Burlington Free Press

Burlington Free Press Masthead

Sen. Bernie Sanders pulled one off for those who have served in uniform. Sanders, who stands apart from the two political parties as an independent, emerges as an effective legislator in delivering a bill to reform the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs. 

The senator’s ability to navigate contentious negotiations shows him to be a pragmatic compromiser despite his image as a wild hair in the staid Senate chambers. 

As chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sanders had to win passage of the bill in the Senate then reconcile the Upper House version with the bill as passed by the House. 

Politico, a website focused on Washington politics, reports that negotiation between Sanders and his House counterpart, Republican Congressman Jeff Miller of Florida, devolved into “knocked-down, drag-out arguing.” 

In getting the bill passed in the Senate, Sanders had to bring around Arizona Republican John McCain. Politco reports, “Sanders and McCain found themselves yelling at each other in private.” 

If anything, Sanders is passionate. 

The VA became the center of a controversy after CNN reported earlier this year that dozens of veterans had died while waiting for VA medical services. 

Sanders is credited with playing a key role in forging a compromise that includes $5 billion for medical personnel and $10 billion to allow veterans to seek private care if they live far from a VA facility, or have been waiting more than a month for care. 

Sanders’ work to get the VA bill passed has won praise from political pundits. 

The Washington political news website Roll Call awarded the Vermont independent the title, “deal maker.” In the Roll Call, article, Humberto Sanchez writes, “Sen. Bernard Sanders didn’t seem a likely suspect to bridge Washington’s toxic partisan divide and cut one of the most significant deals in years.” 

Politico wrote, “At a time when Congress is seemingly unable to agree on even the most basic policies, the VA breakthrough surprised even the most cynical on Capital Hill.” 

Though Sanders caucuses with the Democrats — to which he owes his committee chairmanship — his lack of formal party affiliation may blunt the toxic partisanship that hobbles Congress. 

The VA deal shows Sanders is more than equal to Washington’s rough-and-tumble politics, and is raising his national profile at a time when he seeks to influence the debate in the next presidential election.