The U.S. House of Representatives couldn't pass a bill to add $2 billion in funding to VA Choice Monday evening after it didn't garner a two-thirds majority, a necessary step after House leaders attempted to bypass normal debate.
House GOP leadership hoped to pass the funding bill before its August recess, as the program is expected to run out money some time in early to mid-August. But the largely party-line 219-186 vote didn't meet the supermajority threshold.
During the first three quarters of this fiscal year, 1.2 million veterans received care from more than 500,000 community providers.
Currently, veterans who receive care through the Veterans Affairs Department's healthcare system can go to a provider in their community if they cannot get an appointment within 30 days of a doctor's recommendation of when they should be seen, or if they live more than 40 miles from a facility. The program began in 2014 in response to the waiting time scandal at the Phoenix VA facility.
The Senate has not yet taken up the VA Choice bill.
Eight major veterans' organization groups—including AMVETS, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America—oppose the bill, because it moves money from other veterans programs to pay for the choice program and doesn't provide more money to VA-owned operations.
"If new funding is directed only or primarily to private sector 'choice' care without any adequate investment to modernize VA, the viability of the entire system will soon be in danger," the groups wrote on Saturday.
While introducing the bill, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said that the idea that Congress has been pouring money into Choice to the detriment of in-house VA options is wrong.
The top Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) said the House needs to pass a bill giving more funding to the VA Choice program before adjourning at the end of the week, but he opposes taking money from other veterans programs. He said the bill wouldn't be able to pass the Senate because of how it is paid for.
He, like all but two Democrats present, voted against the bill.