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The Republican Party Has a VA Problem, Too: Privatization Isn't Popular


In light of the GOP's decision to fold the Veterans Affairs scandal into a broader ideological crusade, I noted on Wednesday that in seeking redress, liberals shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the GOP's answer to every administrative blunder is to dissolve whatever program or agency screwed up. The unspoken corollary is that, by using the VA scandal as a narrative building tool, they'll face pressure to put up a "small government" alternative to the VA that would be a better deal for actual veterans. And that carries risk, because the Republican alternative is unpopular. And yet…

The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee is calling on the Obama administration to permit veterans waiting for care at VA hospitals to seek treatment outside that system, if they want.

Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, called on President Barack Obama to issue an executive order that would allow those veterans to act on their own and charge the government for outside care.

I recall Veterans' Day in 2011, when Mitt Romney proposed something similar, though perhaps less expensive. “Sometimes you wonder if there would be some way to introduce some private-sector competition," he said. "Somebody else that could come in and say, you know, that each soldier gets X thousand dollars attributed to them, and then they can choose whether they want to go in the government system or in a private system with the money that follows them.”

Vets condemned him immediately and he quickly reverted to the more liberal view that if demand for VA medical care exceeds supply, we should spend the money required to increase supply. "We have a VA system that needs to be improved," Romney said, "and I’ve got no plans to change that other than to make it better and to invest more money in providing for our veterans."

That was well before the end of the Republican primary, a time when Romney was generally charging rightward. Thus there's a decent argument, I think, that if conservatives want to use the VA scandal to make far-reaching but vague arguments about "government," liberals should take them head on, and push them to clarify. 

For every possible reason, Democrats would rather the VA failure never have happened. But as Romney and our old friend Social Security can attest, dismantling public programs and turning them over to rich private-sector donors, many of whom have worse track records, will be poorly received.