While President Trump stood in the Rose Garden today signing a bill to allow those who once served in the American military to see private doctors as well use Veterans Administration doctors and hospitals, a different battle was going on inside the White House.
Despite bipartisan support to fund the new law, the White House has been aggressively lobbying Republicans to vote against funding the plan, demanding that Congress only approve money to pay for all those private doctor visits if it can cut spending elsewhere.
Trump on the campaign trail and in speeches, including the one this morning in front of a group of aging veterans, many wearing red MAGA hats, promises support for veterans.
“If the VA can’t meet the needs of the veteran in a timely manner,” Trump promised today, “that veteran will have the right to go to a private doctor.”
The problem is that nobody, even at the VA, has a good idea of what doing that will cost, but everybody agrees it will be a lot.
We must always protect those who protect us. Today, it was my great honor to sign the #VAMissionAct and to make Veterans Choice the permanent law of the land! https://t.co/VV3GdDISbD pic.twitter.com/4OsUDWIzwo
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 6, 2018
Senator Richard Shelby (R-AZ), head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, wants Congress to approve $50 billion to fulfill the new laws promise for at least the next five years.
He warned that if Congress is not allowed to ratify his spending proposal the alternative will be to cut $10 billion a year, mostly from existing VA programs, which could cripple the agency, which he said could lead to “some real trouble.”
Trump was willing to bust the budget and blow up the national debt to a new all-time high of over $21 trillion for his tax cut for the rich passed last December but on many other spending issues – including expanded medical care for vets – he insists on making cuts in existing programs to pay the bills, or he will let it wither on the vine.
“In a memo circulated privately to Republican senators this week,” reports The Washington Post, “White House officials slammed the leading veterans funding proposal as ‘anathema to responsible spending'” and predicted it could lead to virtually unlimited increases.”
“Without subjecting the program to any budgetary constraint, there is no incentive to continue to serve veterans with innovative, streamlined and efficient quality of care,” the administration’s memo said.
This is another example how when dealing with Donald Trump, don’t listen to what he says, watch what he does.
Another recent bill he refused to fund without offsetting cuts was for emergency legislation to support communities impacted by last year’s devastating hurricanes – including Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico – and to cover the cost of the California wildfires.
It doesn’t matter to Trump that the VA bill has strong bipartisan support.
Besides Shelby, Democrats including Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana want to see it funded.
There are other Republicans who agree with Shelby – but not all of them.
“Their effort has run into stringent opposition from a White House still reeling from the conservative backlash to the $1.3 trillion government-wide spending bill Trump signed in March,” reports The Washington Post.
“The deal broke through previous spending caps with huge increases in domestic spending Democrats demanded in exchange for military spending sought by Republicans.”
Within the VA there is also opposition to the new bill but not just over the cost. Some believe it will take away from the existing VA system of some 1,300 hospitals, which will end up being starved to pay for ever more expensive private care elsewhere.
One main reason Trump fired former VA Secretary David Shulkin in March was that the White House did not think he was pushing “choice” aggressively enough.
During the debate over the bill, there were also Democrats who were concerned about the same issues as the VA people.
Rep. Tim Walz (D-MIN), the ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s ranking Democrat, warned of a “stark picture of a VA forced to cannibalize itself in order to pay for private care,”
Walz warned there will be cuts in the investments in buildings, direct patient care, suicide prevention, medical research and job training.
Privatizing the VA health care system harms our nation’s veterans. It takes resources away from the VA hospitals that provide comprehensive care for our veterans’ unique, complex medical needs and shunts resources to private physicians who pocket the money for inferior care.
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) June 6, 2018
This could come to a head in the next two weeks as Congress must vote on major military spending legislation that advocates want to include new funding for the VA choice program.
So as usual, Trump is talking out of both sides of his head at once, saying wildly different things.
He loves vets, supports vets, but he just doesn’t want to bust the budget getting them the private medical care many have sought as an option for years.
If only all the vets were billionaires, then Trump would give them whatever they want.