Sunday, February 21, 2016

Leader or Party Hack? How Marco Rubio's Support for Veterans took a Back Seat to Budget Austerity

by Nomad

Marco RubioWith the Alabama primary approaching, Candidate Rubio suddenly remembered US veterans. He makes a lot of fine promises and may have fooled a few people. But let's take a look at his record when it comes to supporting the troops.

Rubio's Recruits

In the lead-up to Alabama's March 1 primary, Republican Candidate Marco Rubio is pulling out his big guns in an attempt to recruit Alabama veterans. He will soon roll out the unimaginatively entitled "Alabama Veterans for Marco" according to a local paper.
Said a regional spokesman for the Rubio campaign:
"Our campaign is honored to have earned the support of these brave individuals who selflessly served our country...Throughout this campaign, Marco has not only highlighted what he has done on behalf of veterans, but stressed that we must improve the care that we offer them. We are proud that these heroic service-members will be a part of Marco's team to spread that message across Alabama."
Howard Koplowitz, writing for, pointed out that Rubio has enlisted a lot of brass too. Twenty-one Alabama veterans are reporting for duty, he writes, to boost Marco Rubio's presidential campaign.  
One group member and chairman of the group,  Marine Cpl. Don Fisher of Montgomery, cited Rubio's promise to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) which has come under fire for the poor state of its hospitals.

However, one website, CorrecttheRecord, calls into question the image of Rubio as a defender of American veterans. When it comes to Republicans in the Senate, Rubio has been much more of a follower than a leader. And overall, the GOP's record on support for veterans isn't exactly a pretty thing to behold. 

VA Reform or Sell-Off?

When it came to Rubio's campaign promises to reform the VA, there's more than meets the eye. What he seems to be advocating is a form of privatization of the VA and then, turning around and calling it reform.
As often happens in Washington, it is quite  possible to reform an agency without improving it and it is possible to make matters worse. 

According to CNN's report from last year,
“A task force organized by Concerned Veterans for America said the VA should begin offering subsidized private insurance to veterans and transform its healthcare department into a nonprofit corporation instead of a government agency. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, supported the proposed reforms, saying VA healthcare could improve "by adopting the competition and flexibility of private healthcare.”
But this model that Rubio advocates is the one the rest of the nation has already wrestled with. It's expensive and not at all cost-effective for consumers. 

But specifics please: Which parts of the private healthcare system was Rubio thinking of adopting?
According to the source, Rubio has supported "transforming the VA health care system into a premium support model." According to his own website:
At a health care policy summit hosted by the Concerned Veterans For America’s Fixing Veterans Health Care Task Force, Rubio said, “This premium support model is also exactly what we need to jolt the VA back to life. As soon as the VA is forced to compete with the private sector providers, it will increase the efficiency, the service and its innovation.”
What is this premium support model all about? It's not a new idea at all. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., back in 2011 proposed the premium support model as a means of fixing Medicare. In fact, that idea was first promoted back in 1998 under President Bill Clinton.
Some people think it is a new name for a voucher system- but for vets.

To understand the meaning of the phrase and its drawbacks (at least as it applied to Medicare), I can refer you to Kaiser Health News (KHN),  a nonprofit news service committed to in-depth coverage of health care policy and politics. 
The main problem with the reforms that Rubio pushes, according to critics, is the gray areas and uncertainties of a voucher-type system. 
They say that "the concept is not locked in stone, and sponsors can clearly modify it with various bells and whistles" and those variables can have "huge implications for both beneficiaries’ spending and for federal savings.” The devil is in the details and small print.
Without specifics, Rubio's ideas are meaningless and could potentially put vets in worse shape in the longer term.

Rubio's Veteran Voting Record

If that were the only way Rubio had failed veterans, then perhaps it is just a sign of poor judgment, rather than willful neglect. Sadly it is not. Here are more items on the Correct the Record list.
--In 2013, Senator Rubio voted against providing $27 million for the Veterans Health Administration, as part of a $50.5 billion Superstorm Sandy recovery package. That's two strikes in a single bill.
It could be excused as a bit of Republican austerity if not for the fact that Rubio had in 2011 voted in favor of federal relief for his own state after severe freezing. Austerity can be very flexible.

--In another vote he showed up for, Rubio effectively voted against considering the $142 billion FY 2012 Veterans Affairs, Military Construction, Military Housing and Related Programs appropriations bill.
In July 2011, Rubio effectively voted against considering a bill that, according to the Congressional Quarterly Today, “would provide $142 billion in fiscal 2012 for the Department of Veterans Affairs, military construction, military housing and related operations. The bill also includes $52.5 billion in advance fiscal 2013 appropriations for VA medical programs.”
In the end, five months later, the bill passed through Congress and was signed into law by the president just before Christmas in 2011.

And again more recently, on February 27, 2014, Marco Rubio along with 40 other Senate Republicans, blocked legislation that would have expanded federal healthcare and education programs for veterans. They claimed that the $24 billion bill would bust the budget.
Rubio said
“This bill has already been debated … It has many good elements in it..It also has a cost issue at a time when our nation owes close to $18 trillion. That was the reason why so many on my side of the aisle objected to it, and that’s why I would object to the motion made here today by the senator from Vermont.”
By the way, he was referring to the Democrat candidate Bernie Sanders who was the sponsor of the bill and the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman.  

As before, Republicans raised the tried and true budget concerns, and through procedural process ended up killing the bill. 
In addition, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell attempted to attach a provision to the bill that would have called for possible new sanctions on Iran.
Something completely off-topic and having nothing to do with veterans. Senator Sanders was rightfully incensed by the game-playing Republicans, saying
"The issue of Iran sanctions ... has nothing to do with the needs of veterans."
By a vote of 56-41, the Senate failed to waive budget rules that would have allowed the bill to proceed. 

Alabama vets should also note that this austerity excuse was also used by Alabama Republican Senator, Jeff Sessions. He declared on the Senate floor at the time:
“I don’t think veterans want their programs to be enhanced if every penny of the money that’s going to enhance those programs is added to the debt of the United States of America."
Sessions complained:
"This bill would spend more than we agreed to spend. The ink is hardly dry and here we have another bill to raise that spending again."
So, in effect, Rubio chose to follow the party line about cutting government spending. 
Fair enough, but to claim now- when he needs the veteran's votes- that he cares about vets is not at all accurate.

Promises to Veterans

Some Americans still think that there is a cost to keeping promises made to the veterans. That once the wars are over, the Congress (which in charge of the finances) has a responsibility to support the people who risked their lives. In more than campaign promises and words.
Even people who might not have agreed with the wars generally feel that way. To claim that it costs too much now. Perhaps they- the people who pressed for war- feel the veterans can afford to be forgotten and unsupported.

Take a look at this video from the Sanders campaign. This is  how the Republican party behaves out of election season when it doesn't need veterans' votes.

Let's continue with the list.

--Rubio voted to block further action on a bill that would have enhanced benefits for veterans including guaranteeing in-state tuition rates at all public universities for post-9/11 veterans.

--The Florida Senator also voted against legislation that would ensure that “all legally married same-sex spouses have equal access to the Social Security and veterans benefits they have earned.” Rubio, like every Republican in the Senate, did not think spouses of same-sex couples had earned or should receive equal treatment under the law as the Constitution requires.

--Rubio “advocated for leniency in the U.S. Department of Education’s investigation of Corinthian Colleges and its job placement claims.” According to California Attorney General, Kamala Harris, Corinthian Colleges had targeted single parents who were close to the poverty line. A desperate demographic. Indeed, the internal documents actually called the targets 'isolated,' 'impatient,' individuals with 'low self-esteem.' Trump would call them losers. The ad campaigns were called aggressive and persistent.The colleges offered them hope as a way out.

These now-bankrupt  for-profit  Colleges were fined $30 million by the U.S. Department of Education for its fraudulent claims to students about job placement rates.
What the linkage to veterans?
“According to a civil complaint, filed by the state of California in October of 2013, Corinthian had been illegally using the official seals of the United States Navy, Army, Air Force, and Coast Guard in its advertising in an effort to recruit recently discharged service men and women."
After allegedly scamming veterans, Marco Rubio apparently thought the company should be cut a little slack.
After all, it's only veterans and the desperate poor.
*   *   *
Today Rubio is running for president and he wishes (like the remaining GOP candidates) to convince veterans that he is on their side.  It is the duty of US vets to look carefully at his record and make your own best judgment whether he is sincere or not.