Veterans lose another round

By By Jim Beam / American Press

The opening of a Veterans

Administration health care clinic in Lake Charles is facing another

setback. Members of Congress

have — once again — given us a perfect example of the devious

games Democrats and Republicans play in Washington, D.C., for

purely political reasons.

The U.S. Senate Thursday sidetracked a

bill that would have expanded health care and provided education and

job-training benefits

for the nation’s 22 million veterans at a 10-year cost of $21

billion. The measure needed 60 votes to keep it moving through

the legislative process, but it came up four short (56-41). U.S.

Sens. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Dean Heller of Nevada were

the only Republicans voting with Democrats.

A Lake Charles clinic is only one of 27

medical facilities that would have been opened in 18 states. Lafayette

is also among

that number. U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette, who

represents this corner of the state, said the House last year


passed legislation to authorize the new medical clinics.

“... Instead of expediting passage of

this bill by unanimous consent, senators locked it in a larger

controversial veterans’

bill that cannot pass either chamber. This all-or-nothing approach

guarantees that veterans will continue receiving low-quality

care in an unaccountable system,” Boustany said.

The entire Louisiana congressional delegation has been fighting for the two Louisiana clinics for a long time. U.S. Sen. Mary

Landrieu, D-La., expressed the sentiments of delegation members.

“I’m frustrated that bureaucratic red tape and now congressional gridlock is preventing us from providing convenient access

to quality health care for Southwest Louisiana veterans,” Landrieu said. “It has taken far too long to green-light these

two veterans clinics in Lake Charles and Lafayette, and the ongoing delay is completely unacceptable.”

U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont

Independent, is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and

author of the legislation.

He said the fight for veterans isn’t over.

“I am proud that we received every Democratic vote and that two Republicans also voted with us,” Sanders said in a statement.

“In the coming weeks, I will be working hard to secure three additional Republican votes, and I think we can do that.”

Republicans offered some legitimate

reasons for opposing the legislation, but they lost the initial public

relations war on

this issue. Newspaper headlines and veterans groups were quick to

blame the GOP for the defeat. Sanders was especially hard-hitting.

“I personally, I have to say honestly, have a hard time understanding how anyone could vote for tax breaks for billionaires,

for millionaires, for large corporations and then say we don’t have the resources to protect our veterans,” he said.

Daniel M. Dellinger, national commander of the American Legion, said, “I don’t know how anyone who voted ‘no’ today can look

a veteran in the eye and justify that vote. Our veterans deserve more than what they got today.”

Paul Rieckhoff, founder and chief

executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said,

“Republicans blame

Democrats. Democrats blame Republicans and veterans are caught in

the crossfire. Veterans don’t have time for this nonsense

and veterans are tired of being used as political chew toys.”

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., spoke for Republicans, saying, “We’re not going to be intimidated on this. We’re going to

do the right thing for the veterans of America.”

Republicans said the bill was being paid for with money that would be saved when U.S. troops leave Iraq and Afghanistan, but

those aren’t real savings. They added that the additional benefits, some of them questionable, would overwhelm current VA

medical facilities that are already flawed, overburdened and years behind in processing claims.

Typical of the questionable benefits provided for in the bill is one of its more than 140 provisions that would give memberships

at private health clubs to overweight veterans who live more than 15 minutes away from a VA gym.

Democrats weren’t free of political

manipulations. Senate Majority Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to allow

votes on a GOP amendment

that would have reduced the cost of the bill and added sanctions

against Iran for its nuclear program. President Obama doesn’t

want the sanctions, but the other part of the amendment might have

been accepted by the Senate. There is simply no longer

any give-and-take on controversial issues.

This is another example of a congressional system that gives too much power to the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker

of the House. They decide which bills get heard and when, and punish members of their party who don’t follow their lead.

The Associated Press reported that

Republicans don’t fear any backlash for their votes because the

Democratic bill would have

hampered veterans’ services and flooded the VA health care system.

Many of them also believe other issues like the president’s

health care law are what really captures voters’ interest.

Obamacare isn’t popular, no doubt about

that. However, Republicans are deceiving themselves if they think those

22 million

veterans and their families aren’t going to hold this vote against

their party. Yes, the Democrats are just as uncompromising,

but they did vote for the Senate veterans bill.