On the same day Congress is preparing to leave for a Memorial Day break, House Republicans introduced a last-minute temporary patch that would prevent another work stoppage at Colorado’s new VA hospital project.
The bill introduced mid-day by VA committee chair Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida) would increase the current $800 million cap on the project to $900 million, which would buy another few weeks of construction work on the site until congress can come back and consider options for a longer-term fix…
Kiewit-Turner…announced in a memo Wednesday that a shutdown on Colorado’s mismanaged VA hospital project would add between $125-200 million to the overall cost of the project and delay opening until as late as 2018.
Rep. Mike Coffman and fellow Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter were reportedly prime movers for this bill, speaking on the House floor this morning in favor of speedy passage to allow construction on the project to keep going through and beyond Memorial Day weekend. While that would prevent highly unfavorable news headlines during the holiday when we honor our fallen veterans, as the AP’s Nick Riccardi alludes to in a Tweet today, it’s not really what you’d call a solution to the larger problem:
Sounds like the Aurora VA will be funded the same way Congress does the budget: every few weeks there will be a new emergency. #copolitics
— Nick Riccardi (@NickRiccardi) May 21, 2015
The fact is, this short-term deal doesn’t help that much, because there will still be tremendous uncertainty for the contractors doing the work. Construction firms need the lead time that comes with planning certainty to properly allocate limited work crews on construction projects–at this project and others elsewhere. One of the reasons this project has gone so woefully over budget is that the problems with budgets and timetables have made it harder to find subcontractors to perform so many of the tasks required. Denver’s hot construction market means that if subcontractors don’t want to deal with the headaches and political uncertainty on this project, they don’t have to.
Coffman can claim he persuaded his own Republican House leadership to allow this short-term deal to keep construction going, but we’re likely to be right back in the same position just a couple of weeks from now, so this is more of a punt than anything. Can Coffman keep the project going with the threat of a politically unsightly Memorial Day shutdown removed? What pound of flesh will Coffman’s Republican leadership demand next time to keep this hospital alive? How many times can Coffman try to be the savior before the press starts asking why the chairman of the VA Oversight Committee has done so little to solve this problem despite knowing about it for years?
Bottom line: especially after the actions of Coffman’s Republican leadership this week risking another shutdown of the project, the line between being a hero and being part of the problem here is precarious at best. This deeply troubled but necessary new hospital for our vets isn’t out of the woods yet–and neither is Mike Coffman.