Politicking over vets’ benefits
True story. A few years ago, a reader called to explain, in all sincerity, how he thought the trillions of dollars in the federal budget should be spent. It was simple:
1. Give the Defense Department all the money it wants.
2. Give military retirees and their families all the money they need.
3. If there’s anything left over, we can spend it on roads and schools and stuff.
We remembered that conversation when we read about Senate legislation that would have provided $21 billion for medical, education and job-training benefits for veterans. Democrats promoted the bill and, although veterans groups supported it, Republicans blocked it.
Critics in the GOP blasted the Democrats’ plan to use money “saved” by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to pay for the added benefits. They also objected to making more veterans without service-connected injuries eligible for treatment at VA facilities. They said that would swamp the system.
What riled them most, however, was that Democrats were using veterans’ benefits to lure the GOP into a trap.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal Independent who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee, said at one point he couldn’t understand “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.”
And after the GOP derailed the bill, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee emailed: “Mitch McConnell Votes Against Kentucky Veterans.” McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader, is up for re-election.
The Democrats’ strategy had been clear all along. If their $21 billion benefits package were approved, they would take credit for helping veterans. If it were killed, they would slam those cold-hearted Republicans for shortchanging America’s heroes.
Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America — which supported the legislation — told The Associated Press,
“Veterans are tired of being used as political chew toys.”
That’s certainly how veterans were used this time.
Congress ought to do better by those who’ve put their lives on the line for this country. Their benefits should be determined by what they deserve and what the nation can afford, not by the amount of political embarrassment that can be inflicted.
— From the Panama City News Herald
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