Continuing from Guy’s previous post, let’s ask a question: Just how badly has the White House fumbled the VA scandal? ABC’s Jonathan Karl discovered that an endorsement from the American Legion cited by Jay Carney in yesterday’s briefing was actually a criticism of the shell game Barack Obama and Eric Shinseki played with Robert Petzel. Carney cited the statement nine times, apparently without actually bothering to read it first:
At the White House briefing today, Press Secretary Jay Carney repeatedly suggested the American Legion had praised the Department of Veterans Affairs for the resignation Friday of top VA health official Dr. Robert Petzel.
It turns out, however, the American legion had issued a statement dismissing the resignation as “business as usual.”
Here’s what Carney said at the White House briefing: “The American Legion said that the group looks at Petzel’s resignation as a, quote, step towards addressing the leadership problem at the VA. So I think that undercuts the assertion that that is not a meaningful development.” …
But the American Legion put out a statement on Friday about Dr. Petzel’s resignation saying almost exactly the opposite of what Carney suggested.
“This move by VA is not a corrective action, but a continuation of business as usual,” American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said in a statement. “Dr. Petzel was already scheduled to retire this year, so his resignation now really won’t make that much of a difference.”
The statement — which can be found on the at the top of the American Legion’s website — goes on to say the real problem is at the top of VA. “Secretary [Eric] Shinseki and Under Secretary [Allison] Hickey remain on the job. They are both part of VA’s leadership problem, and we want them to resign as soon as possible.”
National Journal’s Ron Fournier blasts the Obama administration handling of the communications surrounding the VA scandal. He deems it a “20th century” strategy of lying over and over again and assuming people couldn’t check the references for themselves. Just how dumb, Fournier asks, does the White House think we all are?
This was neither a termination nor a housecleaning. It was a scapegoating. For all of its 21st-century savvy in the field of campaign technology, the Obama White House has repeatedly proven that its communications philosophy is stuck in the 20th century. Before the internet gave voters instantaneous access to information, including every public utterance of the president and his team, White House strategists could hope to wear out the truth: If you said a lie enough, people might believe it.
It’s harder to BS the public these days. White House press secretary Jerry Carney still tries.
There was a time when the media would punish a press secretary for lying and/or incompetence. Fournier and Karl seem to still embody that fourth-estate spirit. Most of the rest … not so much, at least not yet.
Caroline Baum noted that the amateurish handling continued today:
Obama learned of VA problem on TV (same as IRS, Fast & Furious…) http://t.co/ANfBHCcGl2 Why is public so blase about BS (aka lying)?
— Caroline Baum (@cabaum1) May 20, 2014
Jay clarifies: Potus knew about VA issues (but he still did nothing except get angry)
— Caroline Baum (@cabaum1) May 20, 2014
Fournier also drives to the point on the scandal itself:
In Obama’s defense, he inherited a dysfunctional VA, and the agency has been overwhelmed by veterans returning from two wars he is winding down. But he pledged to reform the VA after blasting the Bush administration in 2007. Instead of getting better, the health care bureaucracy has worsened and become corrupted. Long delays are covered up and veterans are dying while awaiting care.
In my column today at The Week, I make the same argument and call for a complete housecleaning at the VA, from Shinseki all the way through the political-appointee class. I also point out the massive increase in resources given Shinseki since his appointment over five years ago:
The rapid increase in battle-wounded soldiers in two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq) did not get the attention required in the earlier years of the war. In the FY2003 budget, the first that spanned both wars, the VA budget was $56.9 billion,according to OMB data. That was an increase of 26 percent over the $45 billion FY2001 budget that almost entirely preceded the 9/11 attacks that initiated the war in Afghanistan. By the final budget signed by George W. Bush, the FY2008 budget, VA funding had increased 88 percent to $84.7 billion.
Even at that level, veterans did not get the attention they needed. The problem became acute enough that Obama made it an issue early in his presidential campaign. In October 2007, as then-Sen. Obama began to rise to the top of the Democratic Party’s primary field, he told veterans that fixing the waitlist issue was a matter of honor. “When a veteran is denied health care, we are all dishonored,” Obama said. “When 400,000 veterans are stuck on a waiting list for claims, we need a new sense of urgency in this country.” He also promised more resources and better management to fix the problems seen at the VA. “As president, I won’t stand for hundreds of thousands of veterans waiting for benefits. We’ll hire additional claims workers.” …
More than five years later, nothing has changed — except the spending. Defenders of the administration have suggested that the scandal is actually a resource issue, but that would be difficult to argue from the spending. Since that final Bush budget of FY2008, the VA budget has grown by 78 percent in six budget cycles, to $150.6 billion. With the single exception of the FY2012 budget sequester, when VA spending dropped 2.2 percent, the agency’s budget has increased by at least 8 percent every year of Shinseki’s tenure. Veterans had every right to expect that the increase in resources meant that the Obama administration intended to rectify the problems that kept them from accessing medical care.
And yet, more than five years later, we are discovering that all of these additional resources have done little to help veterans. Dozens of veterans died while waiting for care at the Phoenix facility, and we still have yet to discover how many others may have perished while having their appointment requests manipulated by bureaucrats more interested in bonuses than in providing care to veterans. …
Presidents who face leadership failures have an effective option for resolving them: firing Cabinet secretaries and other political appointees involved. It sends a valuable signal to others in federal government that failure actually does have consequences, and allows for some confidence that the same people who contributed to the problem aren’t going to be left in charge of the supposed solution. Obama has been strangely reluctant to use this option in earlier scandals, like the ObamaCare rollout or the use of the IRS to target the administration’s political opponents. With the lives of America’s veterans on the line, Obama has to get the failed leadership team out of the way and bring in fresh eyes and better management to fix the problem rather than cover it up.
It’s time to clean out the press office at the White House, too, and jettison the ridiculous figure Jay Carney has become.