UPDATE: AP’s Nick Riccardi:
Politics changes quickly. Coupla weeks ago Coffman might have ridden VA mess to Senate. Now his party blamed 4 killing project. #copolitics
— Nick Riccardi (@NickRiccardi) May 20, 2015
As the Denver Post’s Mark Matthews reports, the ongoing controversy over the wildly over-budget new VA medical center under construction at the Anschutz campus in Aurora has taken a troubling turn–and Congressional Republicans have nobody left to blame:
With funding about to run out, Congress and the administration failed again Tuesday to reach a deal on how to finish construction of a Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora that has seen its price tag soar to $1.73 billion.
The latest setback follows an offer by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to trim the hospital campus by two buildings, including a clinic for post-traumatic stress disorder.
In a statement, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, said House Speaker John Boehner had rejected the proposal and that Boehner wanted the cost reduced further; the VA has estimated it needs an additional $830 million to complete the facility. [Pols emphasis]
“I’ve been shuttling back and forth between (VA) Secretary (Robert) McDonald and the speaker’s office hoping that an agreement can be reached before the end of this week in order to avoid a complete shutdown at the hospital construction site,” Coffman said.
That’s right–Rep. Mike Coffman, who has chaired the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee for more than two years (and served on the House VA Committee in general)–is scrambling to convince his own Republican leaders to approve the funds needed to avert yet another halt to construction. As a report from ProgressNow Colorado made clear in April, Coffman has been well aware of this looming disaster for many years yet has failed to do much more than call for VA staffers to be fired…and panic is starting to take hold. From 9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman:
“I’m disappointed in the VA for their mismanagement. I’m disappointed in the speaker, for in my view, not showing appropriate leadership so far,” Coffman told 9NEWS in an interview Tuesday. “I hope I can convince [Boehner] to understand that our veterans should not be the casualty.” [Pols emphasis]
Coffman, along with the other eight members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, are racing the clock, hoping to convince congressional leaders to authorize another $200 million toward to the spending cap on the Aurora hospital project.
But the latest word today from Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner is, well, screw ’em. Here’s Matthews in an updated story just posted moments ago:
A high-level, eleventh hour meeting meant to find a way to fund the troubled $1.73 billion VA hospital in Aurora ended in standstill Wednesday, raising the increasingly likely prospect that money for both a long-term and a short-term deal isn’t coming.
Punctuating that point was a combative floor speech delivered by House Speaker John Boehner that took aim at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the administration…
Matthews reports that if a deal to keep construction going isn’t reached, the cost of mothballing the project will itself be millions of dollars–not to mention the cost of getting subcontractors back on the job after a shutdown, workers who will be snatched up for other Denver-area construction projects as soon as they are idled.
While no one is suggesting that Coffman is solely responsible for the huge cost overruns this project has incurred, there’s no ignoring the fact that Coffman “owns” as much of this problem as anybody. This is happening in Coffman’s own district; Coffman is the Chair of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee; and Coffman has campaigned for years on his military background and “support” for veterans. If the VA Hospital in Aurora was completed on-budget and on-time, Coffman would be doing pushups at the ribbon cutting.
The bottom line now is that the hospital needs to be finished or, to put it in Shakespearean terms, “all are punished.” The Obama administration looks bad, the VA looks bad, the contractors look bad — and Coffman looks worse by the day as he looks for someone else to blame or be fired.
Coffman has a lot to lose if Boehner and the House GOP leadership decide to use this project as a stick to beat on the Obama administration, and it’s difficult to see how Republicans can do this without inflicting significant collateral damage on the four-term Representative from CD-6.
We suspect Coffman is pretty nervous right about now.