Washington Briefs: Vet clinic expansion still on hold

The Louisiana congressional delegation was hoping that by the end of the year Congress would have approved the much-delayed expansion of veterans health care clinics in Lafayette, Lake Charles and 25 other locations around the nation.

The House came through and approved the legislation, but it looks like final Senate approval will have to wait until 2014.

Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La., had hoped to quickly get the legislation approved through “unanimous consent,” but such an effort is derailed by a single member. In this case, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and possibly others, still held the bill up for review, according to Landrieu’s office.

“All Democrats are cleared on it, we think,” Landrieu said. “So I hope the Republicans don’t hold that up.”

The House easily approved the legislation, with just one opposing vote, to move beyond the delays that have kept the clinics mired in a congressional impasse over rules technicalities.

The clinics generally are where veterans go for medical care. Plans for expanded clinics, with specialty care services in Lafayette and a new Lake Charles clinic, were delayed last year because of a paperwork error.

The most recent hurdle was a change in how the Congressional Budget Office tallies lease cost.

The CBO required the total 20-year expense to be included in the authorization. Almost 40 projects carried a price tag of more than $1 billion. The House leadership reached an agreement last month on which projects to move forward.

Cain to visit Baton Rouge

The congressional 6th District campaign of Republican and political newcomer Paul Dietzel II is being supported by former presidential candidate and businessman Herman Cain.

Cain is headlining Dietzel’s 2014 campaign kickoff event Jan. 17 in Baton Rouge. At the kickoff event, Dietzel and Cain will discuss the “economic crisis” in Washington as well as business-oriented solutions for many of the problems facing the nation.

“Paul’s business experience, energy and passion for service are much-needed assets in Congress. It is time for the next generation of conservatives to lead,” Cain said in a prepared statement.

Dietzel is the founder and CEO of the fundraising software company, Anedot. He also is the grandson of the legendary LSU football coach who died earlier this year.

The kickoff event will be at 6 p.m. at the Renaissance Hotel, 7000 Bluebonnet Blvd. The event is free and open to the public and people may reserve a seat by registering online at www.pauldietzel.com/hermancain.

Scalise calls for Podesta’s ouster

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, wasted no time in calling for the resignation of new White House counselor John Podesta, who had compared House Republicans with the Jonestown cult in a previous interview.

Scalise, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, called Podesta’s comments “disgraceful.”

“It’s disgraceful and telling that President Obama’s new counselor is not only comparing the Republican Party to a cult that murdered those who disagreed with them, but is also using that comparison as an argument in support of shredding the Constitution and governing like a Third-World dictator.”

Podesta is pushing the White House to accomplish more through executive action rather than through a frequently gridlocked Congress.

Podesta also apologized for his Jonestown comments, explaining that he allowed his “snark” to get the better of him.

Vitter criticizes EPA

A former Environmental Protection Agency senior official, John Beale, who lied about being a CIA agent, was convicted this past week for fraud and government theft.

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who is the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, was quick to connect the case to what he called larger accountability and transparency problems within the EPA.

“The case this morning highlights a massive problem with the EPA, and figuring out why this corruption occurred with apparently no one the wiser needs to remain a priority of our committee,” Vitter said.

“This sentencing and the recent reports release begin to shed light on something perhaps far larger than even the initial investigations indicated. At minimum, $900,000 of the taxpayers’ money was stolen right under Administrator Gina McCarthy’s nose. We need to know just how vulnerable is this agency.”

Jordan Blum is chief of The Advocate Washington bureau. His email address is jblum @theadvocate.com.