The Mitch McConnell VA Scandal
The Republican Chaos Strategy is working like a charm, and now the GOP is trying to make everyone forget who the real villains are when it comes to denying benefits to our veterans. And the real villains, despite what you might hear over at Fox So-Called news, are all the Republican lawmakers who have repeatedly blocked bills that would have helped out American veterans and given more resources to the VA.
The reason I bring this up is that over the past few weeks, we’ve learned some disturbing things about the goings on at one Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona. According to a number of reports, the hospital’s administrators covered up information about long wait times at the facility, wait times that spanned - and maybe even hastened - the deaths of 40 veterans.
The allegations, if true, are shocking, and have led many lawmakers in Washington to call for deeper investigations into the VA as well as the resignation of its Secretary, Eric Shinseki, who is scheduled to testify about the controversy on Capitol Hill tomorrow. Republican Texas Senator Jon Cornyn has led the charge in trying to get Shinseki to resign, saying that he thinks it’s time “for new leadership at the VA.”
Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, while not explicitly calling for Shinseki to quit, has said that “a change in leadership [at the VA] might be a good step in the right direction.” Public outrage about what allegedly went on at the Phoenix VA hospital is understandable and justified, but what we’re seeing from Republicans like Cornyn - McConnell - and Fleming is just cynical manipulation of public opinion.
Republicans don’t really care about veterans or the VA, they just care about using this controversy to discredit the President and his Democratic Party - there is an election coming up, after all - and as a twofer, discredit the idea of government-run healthcare programs like the VA. John McCain has even called for the VA to be privatized. The hypocrisy here is astounding.
Remember, it was just a little under three months ago that Senate Republicans under the leadership of Mitch McConnell filibustered a bill that would have boosted VA funding by $21 billion, expanded benefits, and repealed a provision of the Murray-Ryan budget deal that slashed military pensions.
And it wasn’t like this anti-veteran Republican filibuster was some radical break from the past either. Time and time again during the Obama presidency Republicans have either blocked or opposed bills that would have helped out the veterans they’re now claiming to care so much about.
Back in 2012, for example, GOP senators blocked a $1 billion jobs bill would have helped millions of unemployed veterans find work. And in that same year, Republican opposition also blocked a bill - the so-called Veterans’ Compensation Cost of Living Adjustment Act - that would have kept veterans’ benefits on par with rising expenses.
The list goes on. Before that, GOP lawmakers killed the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act, the Veterans Retraining Act of 2009, the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, the Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act of 2009, the Veterans Business Center Act of 2009, and the Job Creation Through Entrepreneurship Act of 2009.
Every single one of these these bills would have helped veterans and every single one was killed exclusively by Republican opposition. So don't be surprised if I take the GOP’s newfound obsession with veterans’ issues with a big grain of salt. But Republican hypocrisy when it comes to the VA is only part of the story. What we’re really seeing here with the calls for Veterans Affairs Secretary Shinseki to resign and the bashing of the VA as a whole is one of the best recent examples of what I call the “Republican Chaos Strategy.”
Republicans know that the while most people know that Barack Obama is president and that he is a Democrat - the vast majority of Americans - 60 to 75 percent by some estimates - don’t know which party is in charge of the House of Representatives or who controls the Senate, or either.
And, so, when something like the Phoenix VA hospital controversy comes along, Republicans know that they both can use it to trash the administration and, at the same time, confuse the American people about who’s really responsible for the problems plaguing the VA and our country.
"Oh," they say, "so you're an unemployed veteran who can’t get a job and whose food stamps have been cut? It must be the fault of the Obama administration, you know, the guys who let all those vets die out in Arizona." When, in fact, it was entirely because of Republican obstruction. It would be one thing if we had a media that called Republicans out for their shameless manipulation of tragedy, but we don’t. Instead, we have a media that is so obsessed with pumping out infotainment to keep production costs low and ratings high, that it’s willing to go along with the GOP’s Chaos Strategy talking points even when they're flat-out lies - as they almost all are. After all, what’s better for ratings than a good old-fashioned scandal, even if there's really no "there" there?
If the allegations against the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Medical Center are true, then we should talk about how to improve our veterans’ medical facilities. But that conversation won't happen as long Republicans stick to their Chaos Strategy. Instead, we'll get a media circus like we're having right now.
A media circus that's more focused on creating tabloid personalities and scoring cheap political points than it is on telling the truth that Democrats have been really trying to help out veterans. And it never gets around to pointing out the reality that Republicans, for six years, have been relentlessly working to hurt veterans and then blame it on the Obama administration.