Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., blocked a vote on legislation designed to protect whistleblowers in the wake of a Veterans Affairs scandal, saying the bill needed to remain on the docket as part of broader negotiations between lawmakers.
"I hope we can work together in the next little bit to come up with a package of bills that would give Republicans a few of the things they want and give us some of the things we want because the issue before us — as valid as it could be and might be — it addresses a very narrow issue that the senator from Wisconsin seeks to address, but a variety of matters are left undone," Reid said on the Senate floor.
That thwarted Republican Sen. Ron Johnson's effort to get a vote on the legislation before lawmakers left for a seven-week recess. Johnson was annoyed enough that he committed a minor breach of protocol by asking Reid to state if he was objecting on his own behalf or on behalf of others; the Democratic leader left the floor in silence as the presiding officer reminded Johnson that such questions are out of order.
"Rather than protect our nation's veterans, Senator Reid prefers to play election-year politics, using the finest among us as a political football," Johnson, the the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
"It's appalling to me that Senator Harry Reid would block this common sense bill when veterans' lives hang in the balance," Johnson, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
The legislation is named for Dr. Chris Kirkpatrick, a whistleblower who protested that doctors at a VA facility in Tomah, Wis., were overprescribing drugs to veterans — a practice that ultimately led to two patient deaths. Kirkpatrick was fired after reporting the misconduct and committed suicide the same day. The bill passed out unanimously out of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Johnson, the the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
"It's appalling to me that Senator Harry Reid would block this common sense bill when veterans' lives hang in the balance," Johnson said. "The finest among us — and the memory of Dr. Kirkpatrick — deserve better."
Reid's objection prevents Johnson from winning a potentially-significant legislative victory during an election year. Johnson is one of the most vulnerable senators in the country, but his opponent, former Sen. Russ Feingold, has been accused of being warned about the Tomah VA scandal and failing to take action; outside groups ads highlighting the accusation, which Feingold's team has dubbed a "smear" propagated by Johnson's allies.
Still, Reid left the door open to passing the bill later eventually. "I hope we'll be in a position to pass the legislation by the senator from Wisconsin but we aren't there yet, so I object," he said.