TIME Foreign Policy

White House: EU, US to Impose New Russia Sanctions

(WASHINGTON) — The United States and European Union plan to impose new sanctions against Russia this week, including penalties targeting key sectors of the Russian economy, the White House said Monday.

The show of Western solidarity comes as the U.S. accuses Russia of ramping up its troop presence on its border with Ukraine and shipping more heavy weaponry to pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukrainian cities.

President Barack Obama and the leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Italy discussed the crisis during a rare joint video teleconference on Monday. The discussion follows days of bilateral talks on how to implement tougher sanctions after the downing of a passenger jet in eastern Ukraine, an attack the U.S. says was carried out by the separatists.

The U.S. and European sanctions are likely to target Russia’s energy, arms and financial sectors. The EU is also weighing the prospect of levying penalties on individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears to only be deepening Russia’s role in destabilizing Ukraine.

“It’s precisely because we’ve not yet seen a strategic turn from Putin that we believe it’s absolutely essential to take additional measures, and that’s what the Europeans and the United States intend to do this week,” said Tony Blinken, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

Europe, which has a stronger trade relationship with Russia than the U.S., has lagged behind Washington with its earlier sanctions package, in part out of concern from leaders that the penalties could have a negative impact on their own economies. But a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said following Monday’s call that the West agreed that the EU should move a “strong package of sectoral sanctions as swiftly as possible.”

French President Francois Hollande said in a statement that the Western leaders “regretted Russia has not effectively pressured separatists to bring them to negotiate nor taken expected concrete measures to assure control of the Russian-Ukrainian border.”

The U.S. penalties are expected to be imposed after Europe finalizes its next moves. Neither set of penalties is expected to fully cut off Russian economic sectors from the West, an options U.S. officials have said they’re holding in reserve in case Russia launches a full-on military incursion in Ukraine or takes a similarly provocative step.

As the West presses ahead with new sanctions, U.S. officials say Russia is getting more directly involved in the clash between separatists and the Ukrainian government. Blinken said Russia appeared to be using the international attention focused on the downed Malaysia Airlines plane as “cover and distraction” while it moves more heavy weaponry over its border and into Ukraine.

“We’ve seen a significant re-buildup of Russian forces along the border, potentially positioning Russia for a so-called humanitarian or peace-keeping intervention in Ukraine,” Blinken said. “So there’s urgency to arresting this.”

Nearly 300 people were killed when the Malaysian plane was shot down by a missile on July 17. The West blames the separatists for the missile attack and Russia for supplying the rebels with equipment that can take down a plane.

Other leaders participating in Monday’s call were German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The White House said the leaders also discussed the stalled efforts to achieve a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the need for Iraq to form a more inclusive government and the uptick in security threats in Libya.

TIME poverty

Politicians Give Living on Minimum Wage a Whirl

Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit
Ted Strickland, former Governor of Ohio Jin Lee—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Tim Ryan, Ted Strickland and Jan Schakowsky took part in #LiveTheWage challenge, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn agreed to try it in the future

Former Governor of Ohio Ted Strickland said in Sunday op-ed that he tried and failed to live on the minimum wage last week as a part of the #LiveTheWage challenge.

“Washington is in a bubble that keeps our representatives away from the experiences of those they actually represent,” Strickland wrote in Politico Magazine. “We need to understand the challenges faced by Americans who are being left behind in our economy.”

He wasn’t the only politician trying to understand the setbacks faced by low-earning workers. U.S. representatives Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) also took part in the challenge, which asks participants to live on only $77 a week — the typical amount of money an employee relying on the current $7.25 minimum wage can put toward all their expenses, not counting utilities and rent.

Ryan and Schakowsky began the challenge last Thursday, which was the fifth anniversary of the last federal minimum wage increase, ABC News reports. Both reps support raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

“So far I have lost some weight, which is not bad for me, but must be tough for low wage workers all over the country,” tweeted Schakowsky. “#LiveTheWage just gives me a glimpse into the life of a low wage worker. Point is $7.25 isn’t enough to live on.”

At an event Sunday, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn agreed to Schakowsky’s request to that he, too, live on the minimum wage, in advance of a ballot measure in Illinois on Nov. 4 to raise its minimum wage to $10 in 2015, the Associated Press reports.

TIME Panda Sex

Richard Nixon Asked a Reporter to Watch Panda Sex

A new book details the former president’s keen interest making sure his new pandas got busy

+ READ ARTICLE

When former Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai gave the United States two pandas in 1972, the result, as captured in a pun-perfect turn of phrase by first lady Pat Nixon, was “panda-monium,” report the authors of the new book The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972.

And that panda-monium–something which we here at TIME, progenitors of our very own replacement panda-cam, know all about–has continued, once more proving that we are but one nation, under panda.

But the very first panda lover of all of us–the prototypical panda pursuer, the panda panderer to rule them all–was none other than bowling enthusiast and nearly two-term President Richard M. Nixon.

Nixon’s interest in his new Chinese pandas, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, was such that he was touchingly concerned with their sex lives.

Here’s Nixon’s exchange with Washington Star foreign editor Crosby Noyes, courtesy of The Washington Post.

Nixon: The problem, however, with pandas is that they don’t know how to mate. The only way they learn how is to watch other pandas mate. You see?

Noyes: [laughs]

Nixon: And, so they’re keeping them there a little while—these are younger ones—

Noyes: I see.

Nixon: —to sort of learn, you know, how it’s done.

Noyes: Sure, learn the ropes—

Nixon: Now, if they don’t learn it, they’ll get over here and nothing will happen, so I just thought you should just have your best reporter out there to see whether these pandas—

You get the picture.

In exchange for the pandas, the U.S. gave China two musk oxen, which are neat enough, sure, but it’s pretty clear who got the better end of that deal.

TIME 2014 Election

Michelle Nunn’s Leaked Memos Offer Rare Glimpse of Campaign Calculation

Michelle Nunn speaks to her supporters after winning the Democratic primary for Georgia Senate on May 20, 2014. Akili-Casundria Ramsess—AP

The leaked documents offer a rare inside look at campaign strategy

As a Democrat in a Southern state, Senate candidate Michelle Nunn has a tough path to victory. The road became a little bumpier Monday, when a conservative magazine published a series of internal strategy memos outlining the Nunn campaign’s perceptions of the candidate’s weaknesses.

The memos are a guide to practically everything the Nunn campaign worried about last winter—except how to run damage control on the memos themselves.

Obtained by reporter Eliana Johnson of National Review, the documents detail the challenges Nunn must surmount to win election as a moderate Democrat in conservative Georgia. Among the vulnerabilities identified are the perception that Nunn is “too liberal,” that she is “not a real Georgian” and that Republicans will tie her to national Democratic leaders who are deeply unpopular in the Peach State.

The documents warn of weak spots stemming from Nunn’s role as CEO of a nonprofit foundation. They reveal the campaign’s clinic assessment of how it must mobilize traditional liberal constituencies, like African-Americans, Jews and Asians. And they expose the campaign’s plan to sell Nunn with “rural” imagery that might soften up Georgia voters skeptical of a candidate reared partly in the suburbs of Washington, where her father served as a Georgia senator.

According to National Review, the documents were briefly posted online in December.

Beyond the potentially damaging aspects, the memos offer a rare, unvarnished glimpse into the mechanics of running a campaign. They cover everything from scrubbing a voter file to modeling turnout (1.4 million votes is Nunn’s magic number, according to a memo from Democratic strategist Diane Feldman). The documents map the architecture of Nunn’s outreach machine and detail which constituencies to target. Much of the information will reinforce negative impressions of how campaigns work, including suggestions for how to drive a message week-by-week and the ways it can whack Republican opponents.

In short, the memos are a classic example of what is known in Washington as a Kinsley gaffe: when a politician errs by accidentally revealing the truth. (The phenomenon is named after the journalist Michael Kinsley, who coined the phenomenon.) The existence of the memos is not a surprise; any campaign worth its salt undertakes a study of its perceived weaknesses. The Nunn memos are remarkable less for their judgments than for the fact that a hapless adviser apparently posted them on the Internet.

“Like all good plans, they change. But what hasn’t changed and is all the more clear today is that Michelle’s opponents are going to mischaracterize her work and her positions, and part of what we’ve always done is to prepare for the false things that are going to be said,” Nunn campaign manager Jeff DeSantis told The Hill.

From time to time, these leaks happen. In 2007, internal strategy memos from Mitt Romney’s first presidential campaign were obtained by the Boston Globe, including a 77-page PowerPoint presentation dotted with analyses of both Romney’s weaknesses and those of his GOP rivals. Around the same time, Rudy Giuliani’s strategy blueprint materialized online after a leak. The Atlantic nabbed similar documents from Hillary Clinton’s team the following year, revealing her campaign’s concerns about “frontrunner-itis” and its strategy for exploiting Barack Obama’s “lack of American roots.”

Recent polls have shown the Democrat in a tight race with Republican nominee David Perdue, who edged Rep. Jack Kingston in a Republican Senate runoff last week. A Democratic Senate Campaign Committee memo released (intentionally) last week assails the GOP businessman’s “record of putting himself first,” a signal that Nunn’s campaign will borrow a page from the populist playbook President Obama’s advisers deployed against Romney. As they fight to hold control of the Senate, Democrats view the race as a rare pickup opportunity on an unforgiving electoral map.

How much will the leak hurt Nunn’s prospects? It’s tough to say. But when you’re trying to sell a candidate as authentic, a long look at the careful packaging can’t help.

TIME National Security

Government Spying Hurts Journalists and Lawyers, Report Says

A Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union report suggests NSA snooping prevents sources talking to journalists and compromises the relationships between defense attorneys and their clients

+ READ ARTICLE

Updated at 4:51 p.m.

National Security Agency surveillance in the U.S. has seriously hurt the ability of journalists to cover national security issues and of attorneys, particularly defense lawyers, to represent their clients, according to a new report out Monday.

Based on interviews in the United States with 46 journalists, 42 practicing attorneys, and five current or former senior government officials, the report seeks to document the tangible impact of NSA surveillance on Americans revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

In particular, the report cites the degree to which the Obama administration’s tough crackdown on unauthorized leaks, in combination with revelations about the extent of government surveillance on Americans’ cell phones and online communications, has caused sources to vanish for national security reporters.

“Sources are worried that being connected to a journalists through some sort of electronic record will be seen as suspicious and that they will be punished as a result,” said study author Alex Sinha, a fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, which jointly issued the report. “As a result sources are less willing to talk to the press about anything, including unclassified matters that could be of significant public concern,” he said.

“I had a source whom I’ve known for years whom I wanted to talk to about a particular subject and this person said, ‘It’s not classified but I can’t talk about it because if they find out they’ll kill me,’ [figuratively speaking]” longtime National Security Correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers Jonathan Landay said for the report.

“It’s a terrible time to be covering government,” Tom Gjelten, a National Public Radio employee for more than 30 years, said. TIME was not listed among the news outlets from which reporters, many of whom chose to remain anonymous, were interviewed for the report.

Defense attorneys, who represent clients charged with a wide variety of offenses including terrorism, drug and financial crimes, among others, described how U.S. government surveillance has forced them to take extraordinary and often cumbersome measures to protect the privacy of sources and clients.

Such measures might include the use of complex encryption technologies, disposable “burner” cell phones, so called “air-gapped” computers, which are never connected to the internet as a precaution against hacking and surveillance, and in some cases abandoning electronic communications entirely.

“I’ll be damned if I have to start acting like a drug dealer in order to protect my client’s confidentiality,” said national security defense attorney Tom Durkin for the report.

“We are fearful that our communications with witnesses abroad are monitored [and] might put people in harm’s way,” said Jason Wright, who has represented terrorism clients as a military defense attorney before the Guantánamo commissions.

A report released earlier this month by The New America Foundation argues the NSA deliberately weakens cybersecurity, making online communications, study authors argue, less secure in general. The NSA has “minimization procedures” designed to limit the exposure of “US Persons”—Americans at home or abroad and others legally inside the United States—to the NSA’s wide-net surveillance programs. Privacy advocates contend they are insufficient and that, in any case, it’s impossible to verify their effectiveness because the details remain secret.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence told TIME that, contrary to revealing a decrease in press freedom, the Snowden leaks are evidence that journalism in the United States remains robust and unencumbered.

“The Intelligence Community, like all Americans, supports a free and robust press,” said Jeffrey Anchukaitis, spokesperson for Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. “The events of the last year demonstrate that the IC’s foreign intelligence surveillance activities clearly have not prevented vigorous reporting on intelligence activities. U.S. intelligence activities are focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets to help defend the nation, not on intimidating or inhibiting journalists. Likewise, the IC recognizes the importance of the attorney-client privilege, and has procedures in place to ensure that appropriate protection is given to privileged attorney-client communications.”

To address problems raised in the report, HRW and the ACLU recommend reforming U.S. surveillance practices, reducing state secrecy in general and limitations on official contact with journalists, enhanced whistleblower protections and strengthened minimization procedures.

The report comes just days before the expected unveiling in the Senate of the latest iteration of the USA Freedom Act, a bill to reform NSA surveillance practices. An earlier House version of the bill was significantly gutted of reform measures, leading privacy advocates to pull support for the bill and try instead to get more substantial reforms through the Senate.

TIME Religion

Obama Nominates Rabbi to Religious Freedom Post

US Secretary of State John Kerry stands with Rabbi David Saperstein, the nominee for ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job, while delivering remarks regarding the 2013 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on July 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.
US Secretary of State John Kerry stands with Rabbi David Saperstein, the nominee for ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, the first non-Christian to hold the job, while delivering remarks regarding the 2013 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom on July 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. Paul J. Richards—AFP/Getty Images

As State Department issues troubling edition of annual report on religious freedom across the world

The Obama administration said Monday it would nominate Rabbi David Saperstein as the next Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, as the state department issued its annual analysis of the state of religious freedom across the globe.

President Obama said he would nominate Saperstein to a position that has been vacant since October, when Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook resigned. The current director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism would, if confirmed, be the first non-Christian to hold the job.

One of Saperstein’s projects as head of the State Department’s Office for International Religious Freedom would be to help compile the International Religious Freedom Report — the 2013 edition of which was also published on Monday.

The diagnosis from this year’s report, which analyzes religious freedom across the globe, is weighty: “In 2013, the world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory.”

The report goes country by country to examine how governments are repressing religious groups and ways that religious minorities face discrimination. In much of the Middle East, Christian presence is becoming “a shadow of its former self,” the report states. In Syria, some 160,000 Christians lived in Homs before the conflict began. Now only some 1,000 Christians do. In Burma’s western Rakhine state, violence against Muslims has displaced some 140,000 people since 2012. Shia Muslims face discrimination in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Egypt. In Sri Lanka, violent Buddhist groups destroyed mosques and churches. In some European countries, anti-Semitism led as much as 48% of the Jewish population to consider emigrating.

The findings offer a global perspective on the contemporary fight for religious freedom, which in the U.S. has become almost synonymous with the fight against the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, often led by conservative evangelical and Catholic groups. The religious oppression that faces millions of believers across the globe, however, represents an altogether more serious challenge to the free practice of faith.

So Saperstein, if confirmed, would have his work cut out for him. The Obama administration has faced criticism for leaving the ambassador-at-large post vacant for 10 months, particularly amid the increasing global threats to religious freedom outlined in the report. Secretary of State John Kerry underscored on Monday that religious freedom is an integral part of the U.S.’s global diplomatic engagement.

“One thing is for sure: Rabbi Saperstein is joining an important effort at a very important time,” Kerry said. “I want to emphasize this effort is not about naming countries to lists in order to make us feel somehow that we have spoken the truth. I want our [countries of particular concern] designations to be grounded in plans, action, that help to change the reality on the ground and actually help people.”

TIME Morning Must Reads

Morning Must Reads: July 28

Capitol
The early morning sun rises behind the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson—Getty Images

In the News: UN calls for Gaza cease-fire; Investigators blocked from Ukraine crash site; Negotiators come to agreement on VA reform; and guns and narcotics in Afghanistan

  • “International efforts to end the devastating three-week-old Gaza war intensified Monday with the U.N. Security Council calling for an “immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire” in the conflict that has already claimed the lives of more than 1,035 Palestinians and 43 Israeli soldiers.” [Washington Post]
  • Even Gaza truce is hard to win, Kerry finds [NYT]
  • Fighting forces MH17 investigators to turn back again in Ukraine [CNN]
  • Afghanistan awash in guns and narcotics [TIME]
  • “This week, Republicans find themselves with the opportunity to set the narrative for the August recess. They will either go home having passed a bill to deal with the unaccompanied children coming primarily from Central America — and spend August talking about how Democrats didn’t help. Or they will fail, giving way to renewed criticism about their inability to rally around legislation to resolve what they themselves called a crisis.” [Politico]
  • Congressional negotiators strike VA reform deal [TIME]
  • How to grow female candidates [National Journal]
  • “The economy is, finally, improving. But it is not helping Democrats much in the battle for control of the Senate.” [The Hill]
  • 6 reasons Senate Republicans should be optimistic—and concerned about election day [Roll Call]
TIME Military

Afghanistan: Awash in Guns, as Well as Narcotics

U.S.-supplied weapons like these M-16s in Kandahar, Afghanistan, often lack proper accounting by both U.S. and Afghan authorities, according to a new investigation SIGAR

Contrary to law, U.S. military lacks data on nearly half the weapons delivered

The bad news out of Afghanistan this week is that the U.S. military’s accounting for the arsenals the Pentagon is giving to Afghan security forces is plagued by “incompatible inventory systems” that generate “missing serial numbers, inaccurate shipping and receiving dates, and duplicate records,” according to a new report from the top U.S. government investigator inside Afghanistan.

The worse news? The problems become “far more severe” once the weapons are in the hands of the Afghan forces. “Given the Afghan government’s limited ability to account for or properly dispose of these weapons, there is a real potential for these weapons to fall into the hands of insurgents, which will pose additional risks to U.S. personnel, the Afghan National Security Forces, and Afghan civilians,” according to John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction.

Sopko and the U.N. have made clear in recent years that the production of opium in Afghanistan is growing with every passing year. Sopko’s latest report, released Monday, makes clear that Afghanistan is also awash in undocumented American-supplied arms.

As the U.S. pulls its combat troops out of Afghanistan by the end of this year, proper accounting and tracking of the arms become critical for Afghan forces to battle the Taliban — and to keep those weapons out of enemy hands. “Taliban fighters are scoring early gains in several strategic areas near the capital this summer, inflicting heavy casualties and casting new doubt on the ability of Afghan forces to contain the insurgency as the United States moves to complete its withdrawal of combat troops,” the New York Times reported Sunday.

“We’re not talking just handguns and M-16s and AK-47s,” Sopko told TIME correspondents over lunch on Friday. “We’re talking some high-powered stuff — grenade launchers, RPGs, machine guns — anything that one person could use.” His new report says the U.S. recorded improperly, or simply failed to record, the serial numbers of 43% of the nearly half-million small arms the U.S. has supplied Afghanistan over the past decade.

Sloppy U.S. record keeping is compounded by Afghanistan’s indifference to the congressionally mandated U.S. oversight of the weapons’ whereabouts. “When we went there and said, ‘We want to see how the Afghans handle this,’ the Afghans refused to let us in to check the weapons” at one facility in Kabul, Sopko said. U.S. military officials told Sopko’s auditors they’d get them in. “We showed up and guess what — everybody was attending a funeral,” Sopko said. “We could not get in. When our guys tried to take pictures, all of a sudden, whoa, the Afghans kicked us out — and our U.S. military couldn’t get us in.”

The problem of untracked weapons, according to excerpts from the 28-page report, is likely to get worse:

As of November 2013, more than 112,000 weapons provided to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police exceed requirements in the current [Afghan government requirement] …

excess weapons

The Afghan National Army has 83,184 more AK-47s than needed because, prior to 2010, DOD issued both NATO-standard weapons, such as M-16s, and non-standard weapons, such as AK-47s. After 2010, DOD and the Afghan Ministry of Defense determined that interoperability and logistics would be enhanced if the Afghan National Army used only NATO standard weapons. Subsequently, the requirement was changed. However, no provision was made to return or destroy non-standard weapons, such as AK-47s, that were no longer needed …

This problem of the Afghan National Security Forces having more weapons than needed is likely to be exacerbated as the number of ANSF personnel decreases to lower levels in the coming years. Specifically, the current requirements in the [Afghan government requirement] are based on supporting the ANSF at a surge strength of 352,000 personnel. At the Chicago Summit held in May 2012, the international community and Afghan government approved a preliminary model for a reduction of the ANSF force strength by 123,500 personnel to a total of 228,500 by 2017. [U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan] told us they are still planning on providing weapons at the 352,000 personnel level because that is the number stated in the current [Afghan government requirement].

Part of the accountability problem, the report notes, stems from imposing rules that require schooling in a country without much of it. “Efforts to develop the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces personnel to manage the central depots,” it says, “have been hindered by the lack of basic education or skills among ANSF personnel.”

TIME Veterans

Congressional Negotiators Strike VA Reform Deal

From right: Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Richard Blumenthal during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on July 24, 2014.
From right: Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Richard Blumenthal during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on July 24, 2014. AP

In three days, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Jeff Miller have turned around the state of negotiations and come up with a $17 billion solution

Updated at 3:55 p.m.

The two chief congressional negotiators to reform the scandal-plagued Veteran Affairs Department have struck a $17 billion deal to address long patient wait times and dishonest government employees who doctored records to make their hospitals appear more efficient.

The bill includes $10 billion to allow veteran patients to receive non-VA health care and another $5 billion to hire more doctors and health care practitioners. The cost of the bill is offset by $5 billion in cuts to the department elsewhere, said Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders Monday.

The bill is a compromise between two proposals created last week by Florida Republican Rep. Jeff Miller and Sanders, which they said would have cost $10 and $25 billion, respectively. Interim Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson requested $17.6 billion two weeks ago to hire 1,500 doctors and build new clinics, among other things.

Sanders, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, said that the bill was “far from what I would have written if I had to do it alone” and that “God knows” there is more work to be done. But both he and Miller, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, said they support the bill and expect it to pass this week before members leave for a five-week recess.

The deal uses a variety of methods to speed up patient service. If the VA doesn’t grant an appointment to a patient within the current wait time goal of 14 days, or if a patient resides more than 40 miles from a VA facility, the veteran can use non-VA care, including from private health care providers that participate in Medicare, and Department of Defense health centers.

The bill would also allow the VA Secretary greater authority to fire employees, who would have three weeks without pay before an appeals board would be required to make its verdict. The new power will aid former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald, whose confirmation to the position is pending.

Miller and Sanders noted that the cost of the Senate and House bills that passed overwhelmingly in June made negotiations difficult. Each of those would have cost at least $35 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The Veteran Affairs Department has been rocked by reports of patients dying while on months-long waiting lists. Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in May after an inspector-general report signaled a widespread practice of employees falsifying records to hide slow response times.

A deal had seemed unlikely Thursday, when Sanders said on the Senate floor that he wouldn’t be shoehorned to pass the Republican’s $10 billion proposal. “Any sixth-grader in a school of the United States understands, this is not negotiation,” he said. Miller then released a statement saying that it would be “impossible” to forge a bill if Senate Democrats refused to participate in conference meetings. With only a week left before the August recess, media outlets proclaimed that negotiations had “imploded,” “ground to a halt” and were “on the verge of collapse.”

But these squabbles may have actually pushed the negotiations further along, a congressional aide with inside knowledge told TIME. Asked Friday if the previous day’s press coverage was overblown, the aide said, “Maybe a little, but we all gave everyone plenty of fodder and it could be that some of the drama, intentionally or not, helps move things along.”

TIME Military

Tentative Deal Reached on VA Reform

Conference Committee Held For Veterans Affairs Reform Bill
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, during a press conference at the U.S. Capitol July 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee—Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., scheduled a news conference Monday to talk about a compromise plan to improve veterans’ care.

Miller chairs the House veterans panel, while Sanders chairs the Senate panel.

A spokesman for Sanders said Sunday the men have reached a tentative agreement. The deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators, and votes in the full House and Senate.

Miller and Sanders said in a joint statement that they “made significant progress” over the weekend toward agreement on legislation to reform the Veterans Affairs Department, which has been rocked by reports of patients dying while awaiting VA treatment and mounting evidence that workers falsified or omitted appointment schedules to mask frequent, long delays. The resulting election-year firestorm forced VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign in late May.

The plan set to be announced Monday is intended to “make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals,” Miller and Sanders said.

Few details of the agreement were released, but the bill is expected to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care.

Louis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, said the deal would provide crucial help to veterans who have been waiting months or even years for VA health care.

“There is an emergency need to get veterans off the waiting lists. That’s what this is all about,” Celli said Sunday.

An updated audit by the VA this month showed that about 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still have to wait at least 30 days for an appointment. About 46,000 veterans have had to wait at least three months for initial appointments, the report said, and an additional 7,000 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade never got them.

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson has said the VA is making improvements, but said veterans in many communities still are waiting too long to receive needed care. The VA provides health care to nearly 9 million enrolled veterans.

A veteran died last month after collapsing in an Albuquerque, New Mexico, veterans hospital cafeteria. The man waited 30 minutes for an ambulance, officials said.

Sanders proposed a bill last week that would cost about $25 billion over three years. Miller countered with a plan to approve $10 billion in emergency spending, with a promise of more spending in future years under the normal congressional budget process.

Miller’s bill would keep most of the provisions in a Senate-passed bill and would authorize about $100 million for the Veterans Affairs Department to address shortfalls in the current budget year.

Both bills cost significantly less than bills approved last month by the House and Senate.

Negotiations had appeared in jeopardy Thursday after Miller and Sanders announced their competing plans, then held separate news conferences lashing out at each other. The men resumed talks in private Thursday night.

The House and Senate are set to adjourn at the end of the week until early September, and lawmakers from both parties have said completing a bill on veterans’ health care is a top priority.

The Senate is expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.

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