The sprawling Department of Veterans Affairs’ unwieldy and problematic nature is no great secret in Washington. The need for sweeping reform of that bureaucracy has been apparent since President Ronald Reagan elevated the position of Veterans Affairs secretary to the Cabinet in his second term. Nor is the disturbing charge that VA administrators engaged in the concealment of the excessive waiting times vets faced a new allegation.
A report in the Washington Times on Monday revealed that President’s George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and their staffs were aware of the debacle. Indeed, as CNN’s investigative reporter Drew Griffin observed, “it’s hard to believe everybody in Washington didn’t know this was going on.”
There is plenty of complicity to go around. Both Republicans and Democrats have praised the VA system as a model of efficient health care delivery. It is now clear that such praise should have been offered cautiously, if at all. For all the hand-wringing, lip service, and declarations that “nobody is more outraged about this,” however, 2014 finally offers politicians a window to do something about the problems at the VA. Why? It’s an election year, and the Affordable Care Act is on the ballot.
For weeks, liberal bloggers and reporters who specialize in explaining events to the great unwashed have been asserting that the ACA is actually more popular than your daily, lived experience would suggest. And some polls have provided evidence to support their conclusion. But a Politico battleground poll released on Monday shatters the notion that the ACA will not be a drag on Democrats this November.
That Politico poll revealed that a survey of voters in “competitive U.S. House and Senate races” shows that the 2014 electorate is going to be far more conservative than the 2012 electorate. The survey revealed that voters in 2014 battlegrounds self-identify more as Republican than Democratic, disapprove of legalizing gay marriage and marijuana, are generally more pro-life than the rest of the country, and disapprove of Obama by a whopping 59 to 40 percent.
The battleground electorate is also deeply concerned about Obamacare. In the Politico poll, as many voters say health care is an election year priority for them as is the issue of jobs, which is the issue of paramount concern for the electorate at large. 89 percent of those surveyed said the ACA is a determining factor in how they will vote.
60 percent said that, contrary to the president’s assertions, the debate over the law is not over. Of the 37 percent who said that they have a generally “more negative” view of their interactions with the federal government (compared to just 18 percent who felt “more positive”), 28 percent cited “health care” as the example of a distasteful experience they had while interacting with government agencies.
Finally, among battleground voters, 35 percent said that the ACA should be modified while 48 percent expressed support for the full repeal of the law. Only 18 percent said that the ACA should be left as it is.
In short, the ACA is positively toxic for the president’s party heading into November in the nation’s most competitive regions.
Republicans are on firm ideological ground when they argue that the ACA is a step toward VA-style government-administered health care. They need only cite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) who has said in the past that the ACA is a “step in the right direction” toward a health care delivery system that did away with insurance, a la single payer. Obama, too, has implied that the ACA should be viewed as part of an incremental adoption of the single payer system of which he is “a proponent.”
“No one is suggesting that such scandals are widespread in the general health-care system,” National Review’s John Fund wrote. “But they should serve as a warning sign of what could happen as the pressure to ration, inherent in all government-managed health care, is applied to the general population.”
That is an argument GOP candidates will be unable to refrain from making.
Republicans will be accused of politicizing the outrageous claims about the VA’s treatment of vets. Good. Not only should Republicans make the VA’s problems a campaign issue, they should ignore the disingenuous scolds who will emerge from the woodwork to chide Republicans for daring to criticize the intolerable conditions America’s vets face.
Political pressure is the only way major reforms are adopted in Washington and bureaucracies shrink. The VA’s scandalous and endemic problems are worthy of politicization.
In a heated election year, and with the added pressure associated with the ACA, Democrats can be forced to go on record opposing much of the excessive bureaucracy, which medical professionals in the VA system are blaming for poor care. Finally addressing the VA’s problems what is most important.
When Reagan finally convinced Congress to elevate the position the VA secretary to the Cabinet in 1988, it came as something of a consolation prize. Reagan had tried, unsuccessfully, to force a Democrat-dominated Congress to privatize much of the care that Vets were receiving. Several decades later, and with the career-killing specter of the ACA hanging over many Democrats’ heads, Reagan may finally convince his political opponents to moderate their hostility toward his vision for the VA.
[Image via Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters]
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