Congress makes a deal on Veterans Affairs, is it a trend?

No signs this is anything but a one-off

WASHINGTON, D.C. - As the children of your Congress get ready to head out to their long summer recess, there appears to be a deal on the table to help the besieged and bungling Department of Veterans Affairs. 

This has brought a glimmer of hope to some unjaded souls. Could deal making go viral?

Not likely.  Here are the reasons why:

1.  It actually isn’t a done deal yet. Neither chamber has voted. There is still time for monkey business.

2.  Despite their best efforts, neither side has gained a partisan edge on this. Both parties look equally bad if they fail to take any steps to help vets who are unable to get care.  So there is a selfish political calculus that adds up to saying yes to a deal.

In other situations that appear to offer win-win solutions (or at least no lose-lose solutions), there is usually a noisy and recalcitrant faction that stands to benefit from obstruction. That was the case with the last government shutdown game; one GOP wing thought failure was success. That is the case now with the immigration issue. 

The variable here is the constituency: veterans.  No politician wants to risk being accused of hurting wounded warriors.

Polling by Gallup in June found that Americans have more confidence in the military than in any other public institution. 

When the VA issue was most in the news, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 97 percent thought it was a serious issue. At the time, the Senate passed a different VA rescue bill by 93-3 vote.

3.  This is not a big-ticket item.  It is being called a $17 billion package, but only $12 billion of that is new money, the other $5 billion is coming from other chunks of the VA budget.  The total administration budget request for 2015, for context, was $164 billion. 

Selling that kind of spending to voters isn’t hard. “Funding for veterans’ needs must be considered a cost of war and appropriated as emergency spending,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, who helped stike the potential deal.

In February, well before the “scandal” broke, Senate Republicans blocked a much bigger and more comprehensive VA bill.

4.  This bill is more of a Band-Aid than a bonanza.

The acting VA secretary, Sloan Gibson, told Congress this summer that the department needed $17.8 billion for hiring and restructuring to address the core problems in delivering health services.  This bill allocates $5 billion for that.

Most of the remaining money will go to sending veterans to health providers outside the VA system. That is an important change and could become part of a larger reform of the system.

The Senate voted unanimously this afternoon to confirm Robert McDonald, the president’s pick for Secretary of Veterans Affairs.  With a new boss, congressional committees that can work together and continued attention from the press, a larger reform of the historically troubled agency might be possible.

It is also conceivable that constituents will praise members of Congress when they come home for recess if they get this good deed done. Maybe they’ll come back to Washington after Labor Day with an urge to govern.

Except elections will be only two months away by then.

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