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The limits of ‘We Can’t Wait’

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Joshua Roberts Bloomberg President Obama. This morning, the White House rolled out the second part of its “We Can’t Wait” agenda: a two-fold attempt to employ more veterans in the health care industry. The White House will “challenge” community health centers to hire 8,000 veterans and also give higher grant priority to physician assistant training programs that focus on working with returning service members.

In purely numerical terms, the program lines up some issues of supply and demand in employment. Unemployment among veterans is higher than the national average. And the demand for new jobs is growing faster in health care than any other sector—the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of physician assistants to increase by 39 percent by 2018.

The White House sees an opportunity to couple those two challenges, especially if they target returning veterans who already have medical training. “Military medics gain invaluable health care training,” Mary Wakefield, a top official at Health and Human Services, told reporters this morning. “It’s important for us to find ways to put their good skills to use once they return home.”

But the initiative also speaks to the limits of how far the executive branch can go. Today’s proposal doesn’t include any new funding; administration officials say it will all come from existing pots of money in the Recovery Act and health reform law. The plan doesn’t commit new funding toward creating jobs, but rather asks community health centers to use existing funding in a certain way.

As Brad noted earlier, yesterday’s proposal on mortgage financing has run into similar critiques. Ezra, too, has written on the limits of the executive branch when it doesn’t have legislators’ cooperation. While the White House says it can’t wait, it also can't get too far without Congress on its side.


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