An attempt to bust through bureaucracy for Cobb VA clinic

In the post-earmark world, members of Congress must use more subtle means to drive federal projects home.

Witness U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, the Georgia Republican set to take over the chairmanship of the Committee on Veterans Affairs when the Republican-controlled Senate convenes in January.

Isakson will have the power to make life miserable, if he so chooses, for VA Secretary Bob McDonald, who took over this year amid a series of scandals at the agency. Isakson has been publicly supportive of McDonald so far.

Earlier this year, Congress passed a bill to overhaul the Department of Veterans Affairs that included $6.4 million for a VA clinic in Cobb County, in addition to 26 other sites. The clinic is now in Austell, but a new lease could be elsewhere in the county.

“It’s so woefully inadequate, just so small,” U.S. Rep. David Scott, an Atlanta Democrat, said of the Austell facility, which is in his district.

The problem is local VA officials told Isakson and Scott that the lease might not come through until 2020, given the pace of bureaucracy.

McDonald, Isakson and Scott — one of the Democrats’ earliest and loudest voices opposing the previous VA secretary — recently toured the Atlanta VA Medical Center. Isakson and Scott followed up with letters to the secretary about the clinics.

Scott’s letter focused on Cobb County, while Isakson went broader.

“I am concerned that the current timeline and the manner in which the leases are submitted to (the General Services Administration) for consideration might cause additional, unnecessary delays in care for veterans who could benefit from services provided at these facilities,” Isakson wrote.

“I encourage the VA to implement all provisions of the Choice Act as quickly and as effectively as possible. I would also encourage VA to submit the authorized leases to GSA on a rolling basis, which may prevent the need for amended leasing plans and emergency bridge leases.”

Isakson’s letter didn’t mention Cobb at all. But we can surmise that if the VA needs to move a lease to the front of the line, the senator most responsible for the agency’s oversight could have an advantage.

Meet the new boss; same as the old boss

Top leaders for both parties in both chambers secured re-election this week with nary a whiff of challenge.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was unanimously elected majority leader, meaning that Georgia Senator-elect David Perdue did not follow through on his primary season pledge to vote against McConnell.

To be fair, Perdue had no alternative, and there was never going to be a challenge to the Kentuckian.

In a primary debate, Perdue said “my answer is no” when asked whether he’d vote for McConnell. Perdue met with McConnell after he won the Republican nomination and reportedly promised to be a “team player.” In the general election, Perdue dodged the question of his leadership vote.

On the House side, Speaker John Boehner was re-elected by voice vote, but one of the handful of “no” voices in the crowd belonged to Jody Hice, the Republican from Monroe who just won in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District.

“I was a voice for our district, and Mr. Boehner prevailed,” Hice said. “And we’ll keep standing for conservative values and principles.”

Hice said he was not surprised that Boehner cruised to re-election: “I was hearing probably that coming in, so you know, the caucus has spoken, so we’ll go from here.”

The man Hice is replacing, Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, voted against Boehner on the floor in 2013 in favor of former Rep. Allen West, R-Fla.

Vote of the week

The U.S. House voted 252-161 on Friday to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project.

Yes: John Barrow, D-Augusta; Sanford Bishop, D-Albany; Paul Broun, R-Athens; Doug Collins, R-Gainesville; Phil Gingrey, R-Marietta; Tom Graves, R-Ranger; Jack Kingston, R-Savannah; Tom Price, R-Roswell; Austin Scott, R-Tifton; David Scott, D-Atlanta; Lynn Westmoreland, R-Coweta County; Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville.

No: Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia; John Lewis, D-Atlanta.

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