Bill to Fund Program For Veterans Falls Short

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WASHINGTON — Congressional lawmakers struggled on Tuesday to reach an agreement to prop up a popular multibillion-dollar health care program that allows veterans to see a private doctor at government expense.

This was supposed to be a relatively easy task, meant to buy lawmakers time as they debated the future of the program. As recently as last week, Republican leaders were considering using a bill temporarily funding the Veterans Choice Program as a vehicle to raise the debt ceiling, a perennially bitter pill for Republicans.

Instead, House Republicans put forward a plan that would pay for the visits by diverting funds from elsewhere in the department and would not allocate additional funds for in-house care. In doing so, they galvanized enough opposition among Democrats and a raft of veterans groups fearful of creeping privatization that the bill unexpectedly failed Monday night to clear the necessary threshold on the House floor.

The defeat left House leaders scrambling for an alternative, with only a handful of legislative days left before the chamber is scheduled to begin its extended summer recess. Money for the Veterans Choice Program is expected to run out early next month.

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