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Rubio blasts union involvement in VA reform bill

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"The VA 'reform' bill as it stands today should not be rammed through Congress without real accountability reforms being added to it," Rubio said. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Sen. Marco Rubio warned the Senate against passing a reform package aimed at cleaning up the Department of Veterans Affairs, arguing the current legislation is too weak on VA employees who abuse veterans.

"The VA 'reform' bill as it stands today should not be rammed through Congress without real accountability reforms being added to it," Rubio said in a statement Tuesday. "It's simple: If you work at the VA and work against the interests of our veterans through your negligence, indifference, incompetence or corruption, the VA secretary should be able to fire you."

The Florida Republican has been a critic of the Veterans First Act, the omnibus legislation that cleared the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee late last week.

In March, Rubio and Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, penned a letter expressing their concerns that Sen. Johnny Isakson, chairman of the Senate VA Committee, was cutting a deal with the Obama administration that would ultimately water down the reform bill.

After a draft version of the legislation was leaked to the federal employees' union, the labor group's leadership issued demands for softer accountability provisions.

Portions of the bill that empowered VA leadership to punish or fire employees who misbehave were removed from a subsequent draft.

Hours before the Veterans First Act passed last week, lawmakers circulated the final text of the legislation, from which a provision capping VA employee bonuses had been cut.

Rubio highlighted the impact the federal workers' union seemingly had on the VA legislation presently pending before the Senate.

"We all believe our veterans deserve the utmost respect and highest quality of post-service healthcare available, but it's unfortunate the labor unions have so far gotten their way in writing the VA accountability provisions in the Senate's VA reform bill," he said.

"The current VA bill includes too many loopholes that let bad VA employees off the hook, and either we work through it and get it fixed in the coming weeks, or this bill will not be rammed through," he added.

Rubio has indicated he would likely block the bill if it were brought up on unanimous consent given its failure to crack down on the accountability failures that have ravaged the VA for years.

Agency leadership has admitted that a maze of bureaucratic rules prevent managers from firing VA workers in even the most clear-cut situations of employee misconduct.