VA hospital project shutdown likely

KUSA— Another shutdown on the construction of Colorado's massively over-budget VA Hospital project appears imminent as eleventh-hour negotiating to keep the job site open stalled in an impasse Wednesday.

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado), who represents the district where the project is located, told 9NEWS a work stoppage is the most likely outcome.

"Unfortunately, I think it is," Coffman said. "I think that's all stalled right now. I'm very worried, very concerned that we're headed to a shutdown."

Congress is preparing to go home for the holiday weekend when the VA says it will run out of spending authority to keep the job running.

After several rounds of counter-offers, GOP House Speaker John Boehner and the VA could not agree on a plan.

"This is about more than one hospital being badly behind schedule and absurdly over-budget. It is about the continuing culture of irresponsibility at the Veterans' Administration," Boehner said in a written statement to 9NEWS. "The VA needs produce a plan to complete this project on-time and on-budget – and it needs to stop impeding common-sense reforms to help more veterans get better care."

Coffman said he was disappointed in Boehner's position and the VA's negotiating.

Boehner wanted a plan to fund the entire anticipated cost of the project, which is currently estimated at $1.73 billion.

The VA was asking for a smaller amount to temporarily keep the job site running. It only has authorization to spend up to $800 million for the job and is about to reach that ceiling over the coming holiday weekend.

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VA secretary Bob McDonald asked for that cap to be raised to $1 billion, and identified $150 million in other agency funds to help.

The VA reportedly offered Wednesday to mothball a research facility already being built on the site, in addition to its last rejected offer to scrap two other structures on the new campus.

Coffman told 9NEWS he tried to get Boehner to accept.

"[Boehner] sees it as leverage. He sees shutting down the project as leverage to get the kind of reforms that he wants going forward," Coffman told 9NEWS. "I just disagree. I think he's got that leverage right now. I think what he ought to do is give this project some breathing room."

Boehner has been working closely with House VA committee chair Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida,) who wrote a letter to McDonald Wednesday suggesting that the VA might try letting the project shut down for awhile while it re-works the project plans, expressing anger that the agency decided to re-start operations last December.

Miller called on the VA to come back with a deficit-neutral plan to complete the hospital with a new final price tag and end date.

"With all due respect, Mr. Secretary, go back to the drawing board," Miller wrote. "Then, we can talk about the way forward in Denver.

A deal needs widespread support in Congress, but that's been hard to come by because of the impact it would have on pending VA projects in other states.

Coffman couldn't predict how long a shutdown might last or how much it might add to the total cost of the Colorado project, saying that the project may eventually need to go out for re-bidding in a market already booming with other construction jobs.

(KUSA-TV © 2015 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)


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