In the very real scandal engulfing the department of veterans affairs and the White House, the moralizing and scapegoating by the Republican House majority is too much to take. “It is time for our president to come forward and take responsibility for this and do the right thing by these veterans and begin to show that he actually cares about getting it straight,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) yesterday.
Yes, President Obama and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki have a lot to answer for since the buck ultimately stops with them. And the president acknowledged his responsibility during his remarks from the press briefing room today. Yet, Cantor’s comments are galling when you consider what Congress has and hasn’t done for veterans.
Just last month, the Obama administration expressed concern about “the funding level for VA Medical Care” in a military construction and veterans affairs bill in the House. It was $386 million below what the president asked for. “This funding level could delay the timely delivery of health care services to veterans and impede the Administration’s efforts to end veterans’ homelessness in 2015,” the statement of administration policy from the Office of Management and Budget said. The measure passed with overwhelming support from Republicans and Democrats in the House. Now the action moves to the Senate.
In February, Senate Republicans actively thwarted the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014. The $21 billion legislation was supposed to improve health, education and other benefits for veterans. Instead, it failed to get the 60 votes needed to stop a threatened filibuster. That same month, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimated that “close to 200,000 veterans are among the 2 million unemployed workers who’ve lost access to federal jobless benefits since Congress allowed Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) to expire at the end of last year.”
You may recall that last November I got rather salty with congressional Republicans because for all their professed love of veterans, they let the food-stamps program take a $5 billion hit. According to CBPP, “in any given month, a total of 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied” on the federal assistance program. And then there was the latest iteration of the “Path to Prosperity” from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). As CBPP noted back in April, Ryan’s budget would take a meat axe to the low-income discretionary and entitlement programs that many veterans rely on once they return home or are out of the service.
We absolutely should be angry about the horrific treatment of veterans in hospitals that are supposed to give them optimal care. Those folks responsible for violating that sacred trust must be held accountable. And everything must be done to ensure that systemic failures that allowed this to happen are fixed quickly and permanently. But, first, Republicans must cease their empty partisan thundering and “we care more than you do” lectures until they have a track record of support for our veterans that matches their righteous indignation.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj