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Oklahoma's senators split on veterans health care reform bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma, says the bill is important first step toward reforming an unwieldy bureaucracy, while Sen. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, complains that Congress is throwing more borrowed money at a department that mismanages the money it gets.
by Chris Casteel Published: August 1, 2014

Sen. Jim Inhofe hailed legislation overhauling veterans health care programs as an important step toward rooting out waste and abuse, while Sen. Tom Coburn was one of only three senators to oppose the bill.

The Senate approved the final version, 91-3, on Thursday night after passage in the House on Wednesday by a vote of 420-5. All five U.S. House members from Oklahoma supported the legislation. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill soon.

Coburn, R-Muskogee, was among the senators who crafted the final version, and he has praised elements of the bill, including the new flexibility for firing senior officials in the Veterans Affairs Department and the restrictions he put on acquiring space for a new outpatient clinic in Tulsa.

But he tried to block the legislation Thursday afternoon because of the amount of new money authorized primarily for new facilities and health care professionals to clear a backlog of cases.

In remarks on the Senate floor, Coburn said, “Since 2009, the VA budget has increased 58.7 percent. (There has been) a 40 percent increase in the number of providers, with a 17 percent increase in the number of veterans using those providers.

“The problem is not money at the VA. The problem is management, accountability and culture. So we are going to borrow $12 billion from our children and reward the poor behavior.”

In an interview, Coburn said he was pleased that he had revised the parameters of the proposed Tulsa clinic.

Coburn complained in June that VA officials wanted to build a Taj Mahal in Tulsa.

“I got it down to reasonable dollars and reasonable square footage,” he said.

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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