Thank you, Mr. President. I don’t think any of us in any of the 50 states have not had calls from our constituents about the Veteran’s Administration. I know certainly in Florida I have. We are blessed to have so many people in our state who are in uniform or have served in uniform. And we make two fundamental promises to the men and women that serve our country. The first is that if we ever put them into hostilities they will be better equipped, better trained, and have more information than their adversaries. And I of course fear that all three of those promises are eroded. But here’s the second promise we make them. After they take care of us and they come home we will take care of them. And that’s a promise that sadly is also not being kept. There are a lot of different issues we can get into when it comes to veterans and what they’re facing in this country, but one that’s received a lot of attention is the Veteran’s Administration. And particularly its role that it plays in providing healthcare for those returning or those who have served our country and have been facing challenges ever since. And we’ve all had the phone calls to our office, we’ve seen the media reports about it. And I'm proud that last year we were able to pass legislation that gave the Secretary of the VA the ability to fire senior executive that weren’t doing their jobs. And this is the point and this is where I always stop and remind everyone that there are really good people working at the VA. In fact, the enormous majority of people at the VA are really good people who care passionately about our veterans. And there are some phenomenal VA facilities in this country. And then there are some facilities that aren’t working and there are some individuals within that agency that quite frankly are not doing their jobs well. The problem is they can’t be held accountable because they’re protected by law, and as a result they can’t be removed. Now we expanded that law a year ago to include the ability to fire senior executives that weren’t doing their job, but to date that has not really been used to much affect. And so earlier this year we introduced follow-up legislation. And the follow-up legislation gives the Secretary of the department the authority to remove any employee of the veteran’s affairs, veteran affairs based on performance or lack thereof or misconduct. It gives them the authority to remove such individuals from the civil service or demote the individual through a reduction in grade or annual pay rate. And I'm proud that this bill has gone through the process here in the Senate, it’s passed out of committee. And is now ready for action. And I hope that we will take action on this. There’s a different version in the House. It has also gone through their committees and they’re waiting for their process to move through. There are some differences between the two which of course would be worked out in a conference. But I think the prudent thing to do at this point given the fact that the Senate bill has worked its way through the process and is now ready for action is to take action. This is about creating accountability. And by the way, this is about taking care of our veterans but it’s also about taking care of the people at the, at the VA who are doing their job. This is also about them. It isn’t fair to them that people who aren’t doing their jobs continue in their positions. And in many instances are increasing the workload on others because they’re not performing or carrying their weight. And so that’s why, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of calendar number 272 S 1082 and further that the committee reported amendments be agreed to, the bill be amended, the bill as amended be read a third time and passed, and that the motions to reconsider be considered made and laid upon the table.
Orrin Hatch: Objection is heard.
Orrin Hatch: Senator from Florida.
Well, in fact, the difference between this bill and the one in the House is that whistle-blower protection action and so if that is the issue that the Senator is concerned with I would ask if he would then be willing to not object or lift his objection if we could move forward on the House bill that is now here and ready for us to take up as well because it does contain the whistleblower protection language.
Richard Blumenthal: Mr. President.
Orrin Hatch: Senator from Connecticut.
Richard Blumenthal: I would be more than willing indeed happy to work with my colleague from Florida on specific language that improves whistleblower protection. I think his bill takes a step in the right direction by providing the office of special council to provide approval for any disciplinary action. That’s a good step but I believe it can be made more effective and I think that the opportunity to be heard with notice of cause for discipline or firing is essential to effective enforcement. I share the goal, strongly share it of making sure that accountability is enforced.
Orrin Hatch: Senator from Florida.
Again, the House version of this bill which is ready for us to take up today we’re proposed has the stronger accountability language which we do not oppose. It simply was not included for the purposes of time at the committee level, but we’re prepared to move on it now if we could. Because the House version is here and ready for action on our part, and it has the stronger accountability language. It sounds like no matter what we’re probably going to have a delay here on acting on this matter. But I would just say this for people that are watching here in the gallery or at home or anywhere they might see this later. I just want everybody to understand what we’re saying here. All we’re saying in this bill is if you work at the VA and you aren’t doing your job they get to fire you. I think people are shocked that that isn’t actually exist in the entire government. Since there is really no other job in the country where if you don’t do your job you don’t get fired. But in this instance we’re just limiting it to one agency. This should actually be the rule in the entire government, if you’re not doing your job you should be fired. But this is just limiting it to the VA because we’ve got a crisis there with the lack of accountability. And I would hope that we can move forward in this, and I'm prepared to listen to anyone and want to improve this. We went through the normal course and process in the Senate, it went through the committee, it had hearings, opportunities for amendment were offered at the time. And so if there was a good faith effort, and I believe that there is then let’s improve this and take action on it. Because we need to have a VA that’s more interested in the welfare and security of our veterans than in the job security of federal employees. And I said it at the outset, there are really good people at the VA. The vast majority of the employees at the VA are doing their jobs and doing them well, they care about these veterans. It isn’t fair to them that there are people on the payroll there taking up seats, taking up slots, taking up money, and taking up time that aren’t doing their jobs and they literally cannot be fired. They literally cannot be removed. It is at a near impossibility, the process is so expensive, so long, so troublesome, so complicated that in essence they cannot be removed. And so unfortunately we won’t be able to move forward on this today it appears, but I hope that in quick succession we’ll be able to come together and get this done to provide a higher level of accountability that is so necessary in every agency of government, but none more so than the veteran affairs. With that I yield the floor.
Q = Orrin Hatch, Richard Blumenthal
A = Marco Rubio
U = Unidentified Speaker
(INAUDIBLE) = Areas that could not be heard due to background noise, tape/phone line quality, muffled speaking, etc.