The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Today, an Easily-Overlooked Vote on Choice in Veterans Health Care

Remember the Veterans Choice program, discussed in my recent article about reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs?

In 2014, in response to the scandal of veterans in Phoenix and other locations facing interminable waits for needed care, Congress and the Obama administration established the Veterans Choice Program (VCP), allowing veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA health clinic or who face a wait of more than 30 days for an appointment to get treatment from non-VA facilities. The VCP was intended as a pilot program and scheduled to end this August, but earlier this year President Trump signed legislation extending its duration until funding runs out.

Demand for the program has increased rapidly, almost a 50 percent increase over last year’s number of appointments. In the first six months, veterans made eight million community care appointments through the program. Current funding is projected to run out by the second week of August.

Today the House is scheduled to vote on a bill that will provide another $2 billion in funding for the program by diverting funds from other parts of the VA budget.

Eight veterans groups — AMVETS, (Disabled American Veterans), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, Military Officers Association of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vietnam Veterans of America and the Wounded Warrior Project – issued a statement opposing the legislation, contending it’s just a band-aid solution:

As we have repeatedly told House leaders in person this week, and in a jointly-signed letter on June 28, we oppose legislation that includes funding only for the “choice” program which provides additional community care options, but makes no investment in VA and uses “savings” from other veterans benefits or services to “pay” for the “choice” program.

In order to ensure that veterans can receive necessary care without interruption, we call on House leaders to take the time necessary to work together with Senate leaders to develop acceptable “choice” funding legislation that not only fills the current funding gap, but also addresses urgent VA infrastructure and resource needs that led to creation of the “choice” program in the first place.

That’s a lot of scare quotes. But another veterans group, Concerned Veterans for America, is supporting the bill, seeing it as the best possible temporary solution as Congress considers a bigger change. (Keep in mind some groups on the Left are wary about the Veterans Choice program, seeing it as a backdoor effort to promote the privatization of veterans care and/or reducing the government’s role in getting veterans care.)

“The Veterans Choice Program isn’t perfect, but many veterans depend on it to access care in the private sector when the VA fails them. CVA Executive Director Mark Lucas [and] Chairman Roe’s proposal to quickly solve the program’s budget shortfall is pragmatic, fiscally responsible and will prevent lapses in care in upcoming weeks. Opponents of this measure are transparently using this situation as an opportunity to advance their own anti-choice agenda instead of doing what’s best for veterans. It’s critical that Congress take decisive action to keep the choice program afloat until more permanent choice reforms are in place and we urge elected officials to vote in favor of the House solution today.”

Sanctions Move Ahead, and Russia Loses

Boy, that Russian meddling hasn’t really worked out the way Putin expected, did it?

The White House indicated Sunday President Donald Trump would sign a sweeping Russia sanctions measure, which the House could take up this week, that requires him to get Congress’ permission before lifting or easing the economic penalties against Moscow.

Lawmakers are scheduled to consider the sanctions package as early as Tuesday, and the bill could be sent to Trump before Congress breaks for the August recess. The legislation is aimed at punishing Moscow for meddling in the presidential election and its military aggression in Ukraine and Syria.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the newly appointed White House press secretary, said the administration is supportive of being tough on Russia and “particularly putting these sanctions in place.”

“We support where the legislation is now, and will continue to work with the House and Senate to put those tough sanctions in place on Russia until the situation in Ukraine is fully resolved,” Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The sanctions “would tighten restrictions on the extension of credit to Russian entities and limit Russian businesses in the energy and defense sectors from partnering with U.S. citizens. It also would require the president to seek Congress’s permission to relax any sanctions against Russia.”

The editors looked closer and figured out exactly where this would hit the Russian economy and leverage over its European neighbors: “Discretionary sanctions also apply to investment in the construction of Russian energy-export pipelines — for example, the controversial Nord Stream II pipeline. This massive project, which would link Russia to Germany while bypassing Ukraine, would double the Russian natural-gas company Gazprom’s capacity to move oil directly into Europe and make the Continent even more dependent on Russian resources.”

The Russians are warning that they will not like it . . . 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday that “we heard of some corrections to the administration’s stance on sanctions and will wait patiently until it is clearly articulated.” He reiterated that Russia believes the restrictions are “counterproductive” and are harming both US and Russian interests.

Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier warned that any new sanctions on Russia will only result in the deterioration of US-Russia relations.

 . . . which is kind of the point of sanctions!

What Are Those Great Bipartisan Ideas for Health Care Reform?

The great Peggy Noonan was kind enough to quote me at length in her most recent column. We hear a decent amount about how Democrats are willing to help “fix” Obamacare but we never hear many details about what their idea of a “fix” is. Once you look, you see a lot of familiar ideas that Republicans reject: stricter enforcement of the individual mandate, government funding for insurance companies to offset unexpected losses, and of course, “Medicaid for all.”

Noonan quotes Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, as insisting that a bipartisan agreement is achievable:

For now, Mr. Manchin says, both parties should focus on Medicare, Medicaid, the private market, pre-existing conditions – issues on which quick or clear progress can be made. He notes that the Senate has 11 members who are former governors. As executive branch veterans with on-the-ground experience, they’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. They’re mostly moderate, not extreme. Get them in on this, he urges. “We still have some reasonable people here,” he says. “Some are just a little too quiet.”

So what are those moderate bipartisan ideas that those former governors are so eager to enact? My sneaking suspicion is that they’re not all that moderate or bipartisan after all.

ADDENDA: Friday afternoon, I wondered if there was a good reason that there was no depiction of Winston Churchill in the new Christopher Nolan World War Two drama, Dunkirk. Having seen Dunkirk this weekend, I think Dorothy Rabinowitz’s complaint is misguided; this is three particular stories set during the Dunkirk evacuation and there wasn’t much need to cut back to the Cabinet War Rooms.

As for what I thought of Dunkirk, it is generally as excellent and powerful as the rave reviews say, but this was the first Christopher Nolan film where I felt like his flashback-then-flash-forward style of storytelling got in the way instead of enhancing the tale. An editor once told me I was very sequential in my writing, and I found myself wishing someone had said to Nolan’s otherwise spectacular film, “start in the beginning, then go to the middle, and finish with the end.”

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