For a decade, Republicans have been screaming at Americans to “support our troops.”
But, they don’t really support our troops. Their constant chanting was originally code to support the Republican administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If the Republicans truly wanted to support the troops, they would have demanded—early in the wars—better armament and vehicles for the troops. Troops in Iraq had to “up-armor” their Humvees with their own ingenuity and money because Congress failed to appropriate enough protection.
The Republicans should have been outraged that after field medics performed extraordinary service to keep wounded from dying that the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center was negligent in providing health care. It took a Washington Post investigative series and actions by the Obama administration, not the Bush–Cheney administration, to straighten out that mess.
American civilians sent millions of packages of everything from soap to towels to shaving lotion for the troops because Congress didn’t provide many of the basic necessities.
And now the Republicans have blocked the Veterans Job Corps bill in the Senate. That bill would have provided $1 billion over five years to hire 20,000 recent veterans by giving them priority in jobs as first responders. It would also have provided career advisers for the veterans. That bill would have helped not just veterans, but all Americans by strengthening fire, police, and first aid/paramedic assistance.
The vote in the Senate was 58–40 to pass that bill. But, typical of Republican obstructionism, it failed. Although there was a clear majority, the bill failed because the Republicans used a technicality in Senate rules to force a higher standard requiring 60 votes, not a simple majority, to pass the appropriation.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) led the opposition to the bill because he claimed it was reckless spending and he didn’t want to spend any more of the taxpayer money on something apparently as outrageous as helping veterans.
However, the bill was fully funded solely by increasing tax collections from Medicare providers who were delinquent in paying taxes, and by requiring persons applying for passports to be current in paying taxes. Pay the delinquent taxes and be eligible for further Medicare payments and passports. Seemed simple enough.
But, Tom Coburn and the Republicans stuck to their mantra of no more spending, even at the expense of combat veterans. The veterans just want some assistance to get a job and not to be a burden on unemployment and welfare rolls.
One billion dollars. Fully funded. That’s what the bill called for. A billion dollars to help combat veterans. You know, the ones the Republicans sent into war in Iraq that we later learned was a war built upon lies.
Here’s another statistic. The cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has already cost Americans $2.3–$2.7 trillion, according to a Brown University analysis of war spending. That’s not even the total cost. The analysts believe the war will exceed $4 trillion by the time all costs, including $1 trillion in interest payments, are figured in. That total expense is more than 4,000 times more than the Democrats asked for to help returning veterans. And, that $4 trillion, generously pushed by a war-mongering Congress, never met even the barest of financial constraints the Republicans put upon a bill to help the veterans they sent into battle.
But, the real reason the Republicans killed the veterans job bill has nothing to do with their public claims they are trying to cut government costs or to reduce what they believe is Big Government. It has everything to do with petty politics. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Senate minority leader, had said “the single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” He could have said the Republicans wanted to move the country forward, to help rebuild and improve the nation’s infrastructure, help those who became unemployed and then homeless because of the recession, establish stronger regulations to prevent fraud, improve medical care for all Americans, assure the success of small business, increase the security of Americans both at home and overseas, or to help combat veterans readjust to civilian life. But he didn’t say those were his party’s top priority. The top priority was to defeat President Obama.
And so the Republicans blocked more than 80 percent of all bills submitted in the Senate, including legislation to provide health care for 9/11 first responders, end tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs, stop price gouging at the gas pumps, require oil companies to use some of their profits to develop clean alternative energy, and end a $4 billion a year subsidy to the oil companies—the top 5 had more than $137 billion profit in 2011. (The Republicans did manage to introduce more than 250 bills about abortion, family relationships, marriage, and religion, but not one for jobs creation.)
Because of their selfish hubris, the Republicans not only created gridlock in Congress, they refused to allow a bill that had the support of a majority of the Senate to go forward to help combat veterans. After all, that might be seen as supporting the president and not doing the Republicans’ Number 1 job—to stop a second term.
Walter Brasch and his wife, Rosemary, were editors of The Oasis, a newspaper sponsored by the Red Cross for families of combat troops. Walter Brasch’s latest book is “Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution.”