One week ago, Senate Democrats couldn’t be bothered to grant more authority for the VA Secretary — which Eric Shinseki may not be for much longer — to fire people involved in the fraud and cover-up in the scandal engulfing the agency. Chuck Schumer opposed a bipartisan House bill and suggested that the VA should just handle the issue “administratively,” which is exactly what the bill empowered the VA to accomplish. Suddenly, though, Marco Rubio’s companion bill has attracted a lot more support in the upper chamber from Democrats, especially from those facing election in November:
Five Senate Democrats, including some of the chamber’s most vulnerable incumbents, have signed onto legislation sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) giving the secretary of Veterans Affairs more power to fire underperforming officials.
Democrats have flocked to Rubio’s version of the bill that passed the House last week 390 to 33.
“This legislation would bring basic accountability to the VA and ensure the people responsible for the gross negligence and mistreatment of our nation’s heroes are punished,” Rubio said in a statement.
“I hope more Senate Democrats will join Republicans in sponsoring this measure and insist that Democratic leadership drop their obstruction to this common sense legislation,” he added.
Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Mark Warner (Va.), who are all running for re-election, signed onto Rubio’s bill Wednesday. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) co-sponsored the measure last week.
It’s not terribly clear why Senate Democrats didn’t go for this in the first place. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton writes that their leadership wanted to leave the issue with Bernie Sanders, who heads up the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Sanders, though, has been in almost continuous denial about the scope and depth of the issue at the VA ever since whistleblowers first emerged to reveal the fraud and deception. He held a hearing on the subject, but otherwise has done little else. Meanwhile, all but 33 House members endorsed legislation to shake up the VA while Harry Reid, Schumer, and Sanders dither, and give Rubio an opportunity to look like a real leader.
The Washington Post editorial board took another swipe at the Obama administration on Monday, this time on the VA scandal. They argued that the leadership failure is not just a VA problem, but emblematic of the Obama administration — and then oddly included Congress, too:
AT THE Department of Veterans Affairs, the federal government’s largest employer (the Army ranks second), only 56.9 percent of employees believe they can disclose a suspected violation of law or regulation without fear of reprisal. Even fewer — 46.1 percent — feel “a high level of respect” for their senior leaders. Fewer still — 37 percent — are satisfied with the policies and practices of those leaders.
Quite an indictment, you may say, one that confirms congressional demands for the summary firing of Eric K. Shinseki, the Cabinet secretary in charge of the VA. But the numbers for the government as a whole are barely more encouraging than for Mr. Shinseki’s domain: 58.4 percent, 49 percent and 38.8 percent, respectively.
We don’t have a Shinseki problem, in other words. We have a President Obama problem. We have a Congress problem. We have a civil service system “in crisis,” as the Partnership for Public Service said in a recent report.
The contours of the VA scandal, involving alleged deception about the waiting time for treatment at veterans hospitals, are depressingly familiar. Disclosure is followed by politicians’ howls of outrage at perfidious civil servants, demands for firing and “accountability,” more investigations and more firings, until public attention wanes. The howls are particularly screeching this time, because everyone wants to be pro-veteran, and the proposed congressional solution — allowing any VA senior executive to be fired at will, with no due process and no protection for whistleblowers — is particularly appalling. But the trajectory was similar when it involved the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Hurricane Katrina or the Internal Revenue Service and the tea party or the Department of Health and Human Services and HealthCare.gov.
They call this lack of ethics and confidence the “true VA scandal,” which is ludicrous in the face of the dozens of deaths caused by neglect. That’s the true scandal at the VA, and the fraud and deception that allowed it, and the lack of any executive competence and accountability that enabled all of the above. And those failures are executive-branch failures, not legislative failures.
In the specific case of the VA, Congress has increased the VA budget by 78% during Obama’s presidency, adding $235 billion in extra spending over six budget cycles. Congress does not run these agencies — they only fund and have limited oversight over them. Responsibility for their operation falls on the executive branch, as do their failures.
Michael Ramirez agrees that we have “a President Obama problem,” and he comes a lot closer to the mark in identifying it than does the Post’s editorial board:
Also, be sure to check out Ramirez’ terrific collection of his works: Everyone Has the Right to My Opinion, which covers the entire breadth of Ramirez’ career, and it gives fascinating look at political history. Read my review here, and watch my interviews with Ramirez here and here. And don’t forget to check out the entire Investors.com site, which has now incorporated all of the former IBD Editorials, while individual investors still exist.