Congress approves another stopgap bill to avoid construction shutdown on Denver VA hospital

Industrials Associated Press

Congress gave final approval Friday to another stopgap measure to avoid a work stoppage on the over-budget veterans medical center under construction outside Denver, but it is still struggling to come up with a longer-term agreement with the Obama administration to finish the facility.

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The House approved a deal Friday raising the project spending cap by $150 million, to just over $1 billion. The Senate approved it Thursday.

The project would have hit its previous spending cap of $900 million within days, forcing a halt in construction. Contractor Kiewit-Turner has said a shutdown would add up to $200 million to the project's price.

The half-finished medical center is expected to cost up to $1.73 billion, nearly triple the estimate the Veterans Affairs Department gave last year.

The VA is asking Congress for $625 million more to complete a slightly scaled-back version. Lawmakers balked, demanding significant concessions in exchange for more money.

Congress wants to strip the VA of the authority to manage future large construction projects and says the department should fire those responsible for the Denver overruns.

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Two internal VA investigations are underway. No firings have been announced but the department says all the key executives on the project have been replaced.

It was the second time Congress passed a stopgap measure for the project. The previous deal came three weeks ago.

The measure approved Friday allows the VA to shift $150 million from elsewhere in its budget to Denver hospital construction but doesn't provide any new money.

Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, whose district includes the hospital, said Friday that keeping the project moving has required a bipartisan effort by the Colorado delegation.

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet said stopgap funding bills aren't the right way to build the hospital but a shutdown would be costly.

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