Just days before the long Memorial Day weekend, Senate Democrats agreed to block a bill aimed at punishing officials involved in the Department of Veterans Affairs health care scandal.
Allowing the bill to pass would have let Congress say it had at least started the process of fixing the broken VA, a gesture to veterans just before Memorial Day.
The House had already passed the bill in an easy bipartisan vote, and up until the Senate’s decision, the two parties appeared to be in rough agreement that Congress needed to move quickly.
When the Democratic-led Senate blocked the bill, the partisan differences became clear. Republicans howled and said the Senate’s move shows Democrats are more interested in protecting government officials than helping veterans.
But one House Republican believes damage to the Senate could be much deeper than just a bad press day for Democrats. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) says it’s an “absolute outrage” that Democrats allowed the bill to be delayed and called on voters to take Democrats to the woodshed for failing to demand a swift vote.
“Every single senator who has not demanded that Harry Reid bring the VA bill to the floor should be fired come November,” Gohmert told TheBlaze.
“It’s time to clean house and I hope that voters are taking notice of who they need to kick out of the Senate for failing to stand up for the house-cleaning in the Veterans administration.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was the senator who called for the Senate to quickly pass the House bill last week. Rubio was met on the floor by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who showed up alone without any Democrats to object to Rubio’s request.
Sanders was technically the right senator to object, as he chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. But Gohmert said Democrats should not think they can hide behind Sanders, an Independent, on this issue.
“The Democrats in the Senate need to be held accountable for not coming forward and demanding that the VA have a house cleaning of those who have kept veterans from getting the care they need when they need it,” Gohmert said.
Gohmert said Republicans plan to continue to seek legislative reforms to the VA in the coming weeks, which could put more pressure on Democrats to fix a department that just about everyone says is in desperate need of repair.
Long wait times for veterans at VA health care clinics not only contributed to the death of more than 40 veterans, but were covered up by VA officials, apparently for several years.
The House-passed bill that the Senate blocked last week would let VA leaders move more quickly fire senior officials who helped cover up this reality. Gohmert declined to name other ideas the House is considering, but said more bills are coming.
“You haven’t seen the last of the House trying to force the VA to do what’s needed,” he said. “There’ll be much more, we’re just looking at different things we can do to force their hand to take care of the veterans.”
He gave one hint, however, by saying Republicans are looking for ways to rebalance the VA so it contains fewer bureaucrats who don’t help veterans directly, and more people to offer actual services. “That’s one of the things you’ll see Republicans attempting to address even further,” he said.
That idea, of course, is central to the mission of many Republicans like Gohmert — putting the brakes on the bureaucratic growth of government that seems to create bigger and bigger management nightmares the bigger and bigger it gets.
Gohmert cited Obamacare as another example of a government policy that will create more healthcare bureaucrats and thousands of new IRS agents to enforce the law, but in his estimation seems to be forgetting about the actual delivery of health care to actual people.
According to Gohmert, the VA health care scandal is just one of the problems that the giant bureaucracy seems incapable of solving for veterans. Another is the question of whether members of the military should be able to protect themselves while on base.
The 2009 shooting at Fort Hood had Gohmert and many others calling for changes in the law to allow some members to be armed while on base, to help protect from similar tragic events in the future. But nearly five years later, after another Fort Hood shooting, the government has done nothing, a fact that infuriates Gohmert.
Just last week, Gohmert tried to include language on a defense policy bill that would let base commanders decide who can carry on base and when. He eventually agreed to keep the language off the House bill, after being assured by House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) that the issue would be discussed when the House and Senate meet to reconcile their two policy bills.
Democrats are already indicating they don’t want the language on the bill, but Gohmert says he is not letting go.
“I think America feels strongly enough about allowing our military to protect itself, whether it’s overseas or here in the U.S.,” he said. “We trust them with grenade launchers, rocket-propelled grenades, with jets with massive bombing power. You would think we could trust them with a pistol here.”
“I’m dedicated to trying to make that if the administration’s not going to do anything, then Congress needs to make sure that our military can protect themselves,” he added.
Another veterans issue looming on the horizon is the idea being pushed by both Republicans and Democrats to allow illegal immigrants to gain legal status through service in the U.S. military.
Gohmert is among those who believe changes to immigration law that are made without first gaining control of the border are a mistake, and that allowing illegal immigrants to obtain legal status before enforcing the border would only attract more illegals.
“Every time anybody in Washington talks about legal status, amnesty, anything of that nature, it becomes a magnet that lures people in quickly into the United States,” he said. “It is a very very dangerous situation when people, whether they’re like the president, Democrats in the Senate and even a few Republicans, contribute to the lure of young children and even adults to come in because of the talk of legal status.”
But aside from the intricacies of immigration, Gohmert said the idea is just plain bad for U.S. citizens. He notes that as the size of the military shrinks, the government is forcing many to become veterans before they want to leave, and said it makes no sense at this time to be looking to sign up illegal immigrants.
“We’re throwing American heroes, American patriots, out of the military,” he said. “It would absolutely add such an insult to the devastating injury to our military to say, not only are we kicking you out… but we’re going to bring in people that came into the country illegally.”
Gohmert is fighting many Republicans on this issue, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), and the winners and losers in that fight will likely be determined over the six months that lie between Memorial Day and Veterans Day.