It’s a popular sentiment these days to say that that the U.S. Congress is completely incapable of getting anything done. It is divided into two warring camps that can’t agree on anything. Plus it’s an election year for many of them, so they are much too busy campaigning to do any legislating.
But this week we learned Congress can still work out a compromise and pass legislation. All it takes is for the media to focus on an issue that makes members of Congress look especially bad for doing nothing to address a particularly egregious problem.
The national embarrassment that is the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been in the headlines for some time now. Ineptness, corruption and neglect seem to be rampant within the VA. A number of veterans have died before their time while waiting to see doctors and get treatment under the VA system.
It’s not a new problem, of course. The VA has never had a reputation for providing a high standard of care. But for whatever reason, the mainstream media decided that now is the time to make an issue of it, and they have finally spilled enough ink to wake Congress up from its partisan stupor.
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This week, leaders of the House and Senate VA committees came up with compromise legislation that tries to make the organization a little less of a nightmare than it currently is. Included in that plan is a new option for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to seek care outside the system. And the best part of the plan is that it is fully funded and won’t add a penny to our already out-of-control deficit. Just kidding. The plan would actually add $12 billion to the deficit during the next three years.
Look, I’m a Libertarian and I believe the federal government is much too big and tries to do way too much, but even I believe the government should take care of the health needs of the men and women who put their lives on the line for our country. That’s especially true for those who suffered debilitating injuries while in combat. So I certainly don’t have a problem with my tax money being spent to ensure that our veterans receive the health care they deserve.
What I do have a big problem with is the way Congress continues to respond to “emergencies” such as this one by allocating new spending without raising taxes or cutting spending elsewhere to pay for it. We are in a deep financial hole, but they just keep on digging. There is simply no accountability here.
Throwing money at a problem makes it appear as if they care, and they hope that will continue to win them votes. Raising taxes or cutting spending elsewhere would surely make some people unhappy, so as usual, that can is kicked down the road for our children to deal with. This shell game they are playing is going to come to an end one day. Every year more and more tax revenue has to be spent on paying the interest on the debt, and there is no indication the trajectory is going to change. It can’t go on forever.
Eventually we aren’t going to be able to pay that interest, and we are going to have to default on our debt. When that happens, everyone (veterans included) is going to suffer greatly. Throwing money at the VA to calm public outrage while we are in the sorry financial state we are in is no cause for Congress to pat itself on the back. It is just the latest irresponsible act by an irresponsible legislative body that, quite frankly, represents an irresponsible electorate.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.