What is the cost of protecting our freedoms?
For Republicans, the answer to that question is simple: $10 billion and not a penny more.
As the House and Senate lurch toward their well-deserved August recess, one major issue still on the table remains the funding needed to address the country’s broken VA system. The House and Senate have both passed bills allowing veterans facing long wait times the option of seeking private health care as well as making it easier to discipline senior agency managers. However, the major unresolved issues revolve around just how much money the government will give the VA in order to help fix the system that has done a tremendous injustice to our nation’s veterans.
There’s no way this could ever become a partisan issue, right?
Wrong. The issue of VA funding boiled over this week as the members of the committee designed to compromise the House and Senate bills made public their concerns over the lack of progress in compromising the proposed price tag of the new bill. As of Thursday, Democrats on the committee were proposing the amount of $25 billion to help fix the broken VA system while Republicans were proposing the amount of $10 billion in emergency funding that could be increased in the next year’s budget through the regular appropriations process. However, it appears we have reached an impasse as committee Republicans seem unwilling to move past the $10 billion mark.
Staunch veterans supporter and head of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Bernie Sanders came out swinging on Thursday in regard to committee Republicans’ absolute refusal to move from the $10 billion mark. Sanders had previously had discussions with Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson about the amount of money needed to fix such ongoing VA issues as shortage of staff, an antiquated scheduling system, and additional space requirements for facilities. Gibson put that number at $17.6 billion, well short of what committee Republicans were willing to offer. In a fiery speech on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Sanders said:
“We have put good-faith offers on the table again and again and have tried to meet the Republicans more than halfway. I can only conclude with great reluctance that the good faith we have shown is simply not being reciprocated by the other side.”
Committee Republicans, including Rep. Jeff Miller, who chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, came out in response by saying Sanders was out of line and that Republicans had been negotiating in good faith. However, this lack of progress is hurting the GOP, especially Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who has 2016 presidential ambitions. Rubio, clearly concerned about the potential veterans vote in his home state said, “It’s unimaginable for any of us to believe we’re going to go home and this issue would be unresolved. I think it would be viewed as unacceptable, not just by our constituents in Florida but across the country, particularly those that rely on the VA and are increasingly facing challenges in accessing that system.”
And yet, despite these strong words, Rubio and his fellow Republican committee members seem unwilling to compromise from their meager $10 billion offer.
The problem for Rubio and his fellow Republicans is that when it comes to protecting our veterans, they talk a big game. However, when push comes to shove Congressional Republicans are simply unwilling to support our men and women who don the uniform. The $25 billion price tag is a paltry sum to ensure the health of our nation’s veterans, especially when House Republicans recently added $287 billion to our deficit to make a permanent a series of tax breaks that help our nation’s wealthy. For a political party that seems perfectly content to send our young men and women to war, Republicans seem to struggle to deal with supporting them once they return home.
It is this issue that has the potential to break the Republican Party in future elections. Marco Rubio is nervous because he knows that Florida has been ground zero for the need to reform veterans facilities and to ensure our veterans are getting the care they deserve. Should Rubio be part of a committee that is unable to come to a compromise and help reform the broken VA system, his primary opponents, as well as the voters of the state of Florida would not forget this failure. For the Republican Party as a whole, if they are unwilling to properly provide the needed funds to help our nation’s veterans, then they can never again claim themselves to be the party that unequivocally supports the American soldier.
All this because Republicans are unwilling to pay a little extra to support our troops.