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Editorial: Here's how Congress should be working

Republicans and Democrats are working in Washington to improve the care provided to the nation’s 21 million veterans. And they’re doing it together.

Maybe there’s hope yet.

It’s all but unheard of these days for members of the opposite party to collaborate on important matters, and it is to the detriment of the country and of Congress’ reputation for seriousness. It’s true that not all issues can be negotiated into broad acceptance. Sometimes, there are legitimate, irreconcilable differences. That has always been true.

What hasn’t been true is that so many members are so inflexible on so many issues. They believe the other side not simply holds a different view, but an illegitimate one. In that kind of hostile atmosphere, not much work can be done.

So it’s heartening that at least in these matters, members of both parties are working toward agreement on an ambitious agenda to benefit those who have served in the country’s armed forces. By all rights, veterans should be an easy group for Congress to support, but given the often mindless rancor in Washington, even that was no sure thing.

“It’s a case study in Washington working as designed,” one expert, Phillip Carter, told the New York Times. “And it’s shocking because we so rarely see it these days,” said Carter, who studies veterans issues at the Center for a New American Security and advises Democrats.

For example, Congress has overhauled the appeals process that veterans must use to challenge a decision of the Veterans Benefits Administration. Another bill makes it easier to hire and fire within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We don’t want to have a fight for fight’s sake,” said Johnny Isakson, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “We want to find solutions.”

This is how Congress is supposed to work. Plainly, it doesn’t, and it can’t on all issues. But it is encouraging that on some of these issues – which, to be sure, are less controversial than others on the veterans agenda – members are working to be productive, to narrow their differences and find ways to accommodate differing positions.

More difficult tests are coming. A program allowing veterans to seek care from private doctors was approved three years ago in response to a scandal over excessive wait times. It requires extending and could cause divisions.

But, based on the good work of congressional veterans committees thus far, it would be odd if they didn’t work hard at overcoming the hurdles that may arise. It’s their duty, and one that they seem to take seriously.
In the meantime, these members deserve the thanks not only of veterans, but of a large and diverse nation for demonstrating that it remains possible to work together in the public interest. That’s important.

The House and Senate members who are working on health care should take a lesson.

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