Coffman: Speaker must act to save VA hospital

KUSA—With precious few days left to avert another work stoppage at Colorado's VA hospital construction project, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado) is making an unusual move: publicly calling into question the leadership of House Speaker John Boehner on the issue.

"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."

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.

VA Secretary Bob McDonald told congressional leaders in a recent memo that work would stop over the coming Memorial Day weekend without additional funds authorized.

Boehner torpedoed a request by the VA to do that last week, upset that the agency did not make strides to cut back on the overall cost of the project.

After that, the VA agreed to live without a planned PTSD clinic and assisted living center on the project site.

"Construction cannot be allowed to stop," said Sen. Michael Bennet in a written statement late Monday. "We'll take a careful look at this proposal, and we hope that Congressional and committee leadership can work with the VA to come to an agreement soon."

Since then, Coffman told 9NEWS he hasn't seen an active response from his own party's leadership to the VA's latest offer.

"I do not sense the urgency," Coffman said. "If it's not acceptable, then just say it's not acceptable. And say why it's not acceptable. So that the VA can react to the speaker's concern."

Coffman announced later Tuesday that Boehner had rejected the VA's latest offer and said the VA was working on yet another counteroffer.

Since builders have yet to break ground on those two facilities, scrapping them could save on the overall price tag of the project, which recently balloonedto $1.73 billion. That's nearly a billion dollars above the amount authorized for construction.

But another shutdown like the one that happened before Christmas last year would gobble up some of the savings gained by scaling back. The very act of shutting down work and securing the site as inactive comes with a multimillion-dollar cost.

Sources close to the negotiations both described a work stoppage as a strong possibility, but disagreed whether it was more likely to happen than not at this point.

"It's not looking pretty," one of those sources said. "There is a greater possibility that we will have a shutdown than we won't."

"If you want to lower expectations, that's a way to go," said another person working on negotiations. "It's very possible there is a stoppage, it's also possible that there's not."

Negotiators are also talking about the possibility of freezing work on two other buildings: a research building and a spinal care center.

Since crews already broke ground on those buildings, it's not clear the effect that mothballing them would have on the total cost of the project.

Lead builder Kiewit-Turner told 9NEWS on Tuesday it was hopeful congress could find a solution by week's end.

"If not, next week we will have no choice but to suspend construction operations and begin a safe and orderly process to secure and demobilize from the site," KT spokesman Tom Jansenn wrote in an email. "A shutdown would significantly raise costs to taxpayers and could delay the completion of the project into 2018."

In order to fast-track a vote in congress this week, supporters of a deal to save the project say they need 2/3 support in the House of Representative and unanimous support in the Senate.

(KUSA-TV © 2015 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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