Although budget requests are routinely dismissed as pie-in-the-sky wish lists doomed to be slashed, lawmakers fear that the Veterans Affairs Department actually might not be asking for enough money to meet its needs.
Lawmakers have a long list of concerns about the VA in the latest budget go-round, in which the department is asking for $163.9 billion — a 6.5 percent increase over the current fiscal year. They are faced with complaints back home of deficient veterans’ health centers, long claims backlogs, and questionable treatment for Iraq and Afghanistan vets who are readily prescribed heaps of drugs to deal with serious post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s very easy to beat up on the VA,” said Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders at a hearing Wednesday on its fiscal 2015 budget request.
Lawmakers from both parties took turns raising worries that the VA is not equipped to handle the veterans’ needs back in their states, particularly when the wind-down of the Afghanistan war is sending a growing influx of servicemen and women into the VA system.
“As I understand it, the VA anticipates seeing an increase of approximately 100,000 new patients in the coming year,” said Sanders, a Vermont independent. “But I am concerned whether the 3 percent increase in medical care that is in the budget will be sufficient to care for these new users, existing users, will span veterans services, and keep pace with all of the issues we have here. Is that enough money? It sounds to me like it’s not.”
VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who was testifying before the panel, said the VA tried to ask for what it anticipates needing for 2015, but he admitted that the request was put together before the Defense Department announced its latest plans to reduce troop size.
“This budget request is prior to that plan being provided,” Shinseki said. “We believe we have in this budget anticipated what our needs will be in 2015, but this again will depend on what the downsizing plan entails.”
Congress has long been pushing the VA to work through its backlog of claims, and lawmakers continued to press the department Wednesday to ensure it is on track to clear through the backlog in 2015 as planned. Shinseki said it would.
But the concerns most lawmakers focused on were about the VA’s capacity to provide adequate mental health services, and its ability to maintain and develop sufficient health care facilities.
Republican Sen. Mike Johanns of Nebraska complained about the VA’s pace on capital improvement projects. Because an Omaha project was far down on the waiting list, he said it could take years for veterans to receive the access that they need.
“What I’m looking at, all these projects, a pretty rough estimate is that $23 billion is necessary to address what is on the waiting list,” Johanns said. “How can we best put a process in place to address what you are dealing with and what we are dealing with? It’s a lot of money; it would be very hard to come up with that.”
Shinseki said that in the budget environment, the VA is trying to prioritize projects appropriately to provide for veterans’ safety and security and maintain existing facilities. The VA has requested $561.8 million for major construction in its fiscal 2015 budget.
But Johanns questioned whether spending hundreds of millions of dollars to maintain old facilities was actually counterproductive.
“All these millions we are putting into these facilities across the country, I just hope we are not chasing good money with bad money,” Johanns said.
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Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”