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Robert McDonald

McDonald moves closer to VA secretary role; Senate could vote by Aug. 1

By Virgil Dickson
Posted: July 22, 2014 - 6:45 pm ET

Robert McDonald on Tuesday moved a step closer to Senate confirmation as the next secretary of veterans affairs, appearing before the Senate Committee on Veteran Affairs to favorable comments from committee members.

A formal committee vote on his nomination is likely as soon as Wednesday. Full Senate confirmation could come before Congress' August recess begins.

While no formal committee vote occurred Tuesday, there were no dissenting voices to his confirmation during the hearing.

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McDonald was praised for what he is best known for, being the former CEO of Procter & Gamble, where he oversaw more than 120,000 employees selling products in more than 180 countries.

“We need good quality management, transparency and accountability and I hope McDonald's corporate experience will create a well-run and accountable VA,” said Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate Veterans Affairs chairman.

The hearing comes as lawmakers continue to wrestle with formulating a compromise bill that would allow veterans to seek out private providers. It's unclear if lawmakers from both the House and Senate will be able to come together on a bill, however, because of the enormous cost involved in such a plan.

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he doubted a meeting of the minds could happen before summer recess begins August 1 because conservative lawmakers in the House are concerned as to how to pay for the legislation.

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) expressed dismay at the confirmation hearing about Reid's remarks, going so far to say that lawmakers should not go on recess unless a compromise can be reached.

Published reports have raised the possibility that House Republicans might agree to pass legislation without specifying how the increased expenditures would be paid for. Estimates for what the VA legislation would cost have ranged from $50 billion to $35 billion, coming close to or eclipsing what the VA now spends on veteran healthcare.

The VA also is asking for $17.6 billion to expand staff and facilities separate from the larger measure Congress is considering.

McDonald was introduced at Tuesday's hearing by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) who sat to his left and right, and enthusiastically backed his nomination. McDonald is a resident of Ohio where P&G is headquartered.

During opening statements, committee members simultaneously voiced their support for McDonald and pushed for quick action on the VA's wait list woes, fraudulent documentation, whistle-blower retaliation, and other long-standing problems, such as the rate of suicides and homelessness among veterans.

“I desperately want this job because I think I can make a difference for the veterans I care so much about,” McDonald said. “I think my entire career has prepared me for this task.”

He spoke in generalities about his goals if confirmed, mentioning improving the communication between field operations and VA central offices as well as between employees and senior management. To accomplish this, he promised an extensive tour of facilities.

He assured members that the department would be more responsive to Congressional inquiries for information, even going so far as to promise committee members his personal cell phone number to call if they ever feel stonewalled.

He said he also plans to establish a board of physicians to advise him on best practices for delivering timely, quality healthcare. This group would include providers from within and outside the VA. He also promised a reorganization of the department to most efficiently and effectively use resources, but did not give any details.

Follow Virgil Dickson on Twitter: @MHVDickson

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