Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Senate Republicans Screw Veterans Again

What in the world is Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist going to do with those wacky Democrats? Don’t they understand that war is supposed to make America’s richest people more wealthy and not actually make them sacrifice for the war effort?

Despite Senate Democrats spending much of 2005 getting shot down by the GOP majority as they attempted to secure funding for active military, Veterans and first responders, Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Jack Reed (D-RI) decided to take another kick at the can last week.

Dodd proposed S.AMDT.2735, which was intended to “…support the health needs of our veterans and military personnel and reduce the deficit by making tax rates fairer for all Americans.” In short, the measure proposed additional funding to shore up the failing infrastructures at Veterans hospitals all over the country and was cosponsored by eight other Democrats including John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

“We know last year that over 100,000 Iraqi veterans returned home. Yet the administration's fiscal year 2006 budget for the VA was only prepared to handle 23,000 veterans,” said Dodd in arguing for his amendment. “There are shortfalls in every state across the country. There are shortfalls in private facilities as well as public ones. This amendment is for us finally to say let's do something for these people.”

The American Legion agreed with Dodd, writing a letter for formal introduction into the record supporting the Democratic amendment.

“Your amendment acknowledges the need for adequate funding to ensure our nation's veterans receive the healthcare and other benefits to which they are entitled,” said Steven Robertson, of The American Legion.

So what’s the big problem with Dodd’s legislation? It asks for a minor rollback in the capital gains tax cuts the Bush administration has given to the richest one-fifth of one percent of Americans – or those who, in 2007 and 2008, will receive yet further capital gains and dividends tax reductions.

“If you think we ought to do something on behalf of our veterans, then we ought to have the courage to pay for it,” said Dodd. “You have to make choices. A modest reduction in the capital gains and dividends tax reduction for 2 years, coming from less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the population making over $1 million a year is very little to ask for.”

Apparently it was too much to ask, as the amendment went down by a vote of 53-44, with only one Republican (Lincoln Chafee) voting for the funding and one Democrat (Ben Nelson) voting against. Good Lord, can we just stop this charade and do a straight-up trade across the aisle – Chafee for Nelson – and get it over with?

And here’s the real kicker: With the Iraq War currently ringing up a price tag in the $230 billion to $300 billion range– depending on whose numbers you go with – how much do you think Dodd’s bill was asking for over five years? A little under $7 billion to help care for the Veterans that will result from what may ultimately be a $500 billion war.

Daniel Akaka (D-HI), one of the amendment’s cosponsors, told his Senate colleagues that this funding simply acknowledges the reality of Vets needing help when returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan and that it will avoid the emergency funding that has been necessary lately due to the GOP’s stinginess with our war wounded.

“This amendment we offer today allows the VA to provide care for returning troops--without displacing those veterans currently using the system,” said Akaka. “Let us never forget the budget disaster last year. Early in the year, we knew VA was not making ends meet. The administration, however, took months to come to that realization. And just last week, the President signed a declaration of emergency funding for $1.2 billion for fiscal year 2006.”

The other kick in the teeth for America’s Veterans came in the form of Republicans also rejecting S.AMDT.2737. Sponsored by Senator Reed, the amendment also sought a rollback in capital gains tax cuts -- but this time to purchase much-needed equipment for troops serving in the Middle East.

“We have the responsibility to be responsible, not only give the troops what they need but pay for it so we do not increase the deficit,” argued Reed on the Senate floor. “I hope we respond by supporting my amendment which takes care of the troops but does so in a responsible way by providing the resources to pay for this necessary equipment.”

“This equipment is not new equipment, it is not transformational, it is the equipment they need. I commanded a paratrooper company in the 82nd Airborne Division. I can tell you the worst thing for morale is to have soldiers with poor and inadequate equipment. We owe it to them.”

Reed’s legislation was also killed by the GOP leadership by a vote of 53-44.

Do you ever wonder, as I do, how many Republican Senators have “Support the Troops” magnets on their cars?