A VoteVets press conference at the U.S. Capitol
Democratic lawmakers and representatives of VoteVets.org stand in opposition to the "Default on America Act" at the U.S. Capitol in late April 2023 (Photo: VoteVets.org)

Our Repub­li­can mem­bers of the Unit­ed States House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives offer up press releas­es and tweets every day of the year pay­ing trib­ute to America’s ser­vice­mem­bers and vet­er­ans, stress­ing a country’s oblig­a­tions and grat­i­tude to the men and women who don the uni­form in defense of the nation.

Those same Repub­li­can House mem­bers recent­ly vot­ed for a bill that would cut spend­ing for the U.S. Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Affairs by twen­ty-two per­cent the com­ing fis­cal year. The hostage-tak­ing scheme is a means of extract­ing destruc­tive con­ces­sions in exchange for vot­ing to raise the debt ceil­ing so the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment can pay its bills for spend­ing already approved.

“Peo­ple who reg­u­lar­ly read my newslet­ter know that I am not a par­ti­san bomb-throw­er, but the cuts pro­posed by my Repub­li­can col­leagues would mean gut­ting law enforce­ment, food safe­ty and vital sup­port for work­ing fam­i­lies across Wash­ing­ton state,” said Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Derek Kilmer, D‑Washington, writ­ing to con­stituents. Kilmer rep­re­sents the 6th Dis­trict in the House.

As the clock clicks down on debt oblig­a­tions, we are wak­ing up to the con­se­quences of Repub­li­cans’ fis­cal demands. Any eval­u­a­tion goes beyond hyper­bole, both in the stock mar­ket crash and loss of mil­lions of jobs like­ly result­ing from a default, but also for impacts of Repub­li­can-cham­pi­oned cuts on the state and fed­er­al ser­vices such as those pro­vid­ed by Vet­er­ans Affairs.

Bud­gets are big news and a big deal in oth­er coun­tries, antic­i­pat­ed and talked about in such coun­tries as Cana­da and Great Britain. Gov­ern­ments stand and fall on their pri­or­i­ties. Here, the President’s bud­get pro­pos­al is briefly kissed off as unre­al­is­tic before we turn our atten­tion to the lat­est scan­dals and mul­ti­ple killings.

Bud­gets have con­se­quences. Or as Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Susan Del­Bene, D‑Washington, put it, “With each pass­ing day, Repub­li­cans’ polit­i­cal games cre­ate more uncer­tain­ty for fam­i­lies and the glob­al econ­o­my.” Trans­la­tion, the House Repub­li­cans have set an enor­mous price on avert­ing an enor­mous catastrophe.

I went over that “total­ly unac­cept­able” price on the phone with Mary Karzyn­s­ki, direc­tor of gov­ern­ment affairs for VoteVets.org, an orga­ni­za­tion of pro­gres­sive vet­er­ans work­ing for a bet­ter future for Amer­i­ca. Of course, default has the poten­tial to deny vet­er­ans’ ben­e­fits alto­geth­er. But the Repub­li­cans’ price to keep that from hap­pen­ing would mean cut­ting los­ing $2 bil­lion from the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan and can­cel­ing $365 mil­lion in major con­struc­tion projects.

The pric­etag of pro­posed cuts to the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Affairs totals some $30 bil­lion. Vet­er­ans would find them­selves unable to sched­ule well­ness vis­its, but also can­cer appoint­ments, men­tal health treat­ments, sub­stance abuse treat­ments, and a mul­ti­plic­i­ty of VA ser­vices. The Vet­er­ans Ben­e­fit Admin­is­tra­tion would cut its staff by more than 6,000 peo­ple, wors­en­ing wait time by adding 1134,000 claims to the dis­abil­i­ty claims backlog.

“Don’t believe any­one who says these are dra­con­ian lim­its,” House Speak­er Kevin McCarthy said not long ago, explain­ing that VA would con­tin­ue to oper­ate at 2022 lev­els. But as Seat­tle-based VoteVets orga­niz­er Rick Heg­dahl (a for­mer Pres­i­dent of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute) points out, there are going to be more vet­er­ans and more health care demands. Con­gress has recent­ly extend­ed ben­e­fits to ser­vice mem­bers exposed to tox­ic smoke from burn pits here and abroad.

Former NPI President Rick Hegdahl at the U.S. Capitol
Rick Heg­dahl, a for­mer Pres­i­dent of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute and an orga­niz­er with VoteVets.org, jour­neyed to our nation’s cap­i­tal to ral­ly oppo­si­tion to destruc­tive cuts to vet­er­ans’ care (Pho­to: Rick Heg­dahl, VoteVets.org)

Sim­i­lar­ly, con­se­quences of pro­posed bud­get cuts run up and down the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, poten­tial­ly punch­ing more holes in an already-frayed social safe­ty net. A mem­ber of the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, Del­Bene recent­ly com­piled a list of painful cuts the Repub­li­can bud­get would inflict on the state of Wash­ing­ton State.

A total of 4,800 pre-school and child care slots would be elim­i­nat­ed. A whop­ping 182,000 Wash­ing­to­ni­ans would lose food assis­tance. We’d see 80,000 stu­dents see the cost of col­lege go up. We’d have 17,000 Wash­ing­ton fam­i­lies feel an increase in hous­ing costs. And 164,500 vet­er­ans could lose med­ical care.

A whop­ping 1.5 mil­lion seniors would have to wait at least two months longer for Social Secu­ri­ty and Medicare assistance.

Joel Ryan, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Wash­ing­ton State Head Start, explained what the Repub­li­cans’ attacks on essen­tial pub­lic ser­vices would do to kids: “Head Start pro­grams will be forced to slash enroll­ment, cut staff and dilute ser­vices just as the needs of our low­est income preschool chil­dren and their fam­i­lies have expe­ri­enced dis­rupt­ed learn­ing dur­ing the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Such cuts are part of Repub­li­cans’ DNA, even as they lion­ize the military.

Some years back, the sec­ond Bush admin­is­tra­tion sought to close the VA’s Jonathan Wain­wright Med­ical Cen­ter in Wal­la Wal­la. The shut­down was stopped after Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray and the local VFW post staged a rau­cous hear­ing. Vet­er­ans Admin­is­tra­tion brass heard vets explain how they would have to dri­ve two hun­dred-plus miles to Seat­tle, Port­land or Spokane for need­ed treatment.

All eight of this state’s Demo­c­ra­t­ic House mem­bers vot­ed against the Repub­li­cans’ “Default on Amer­i­ca Act,” the name giv­en to it by Democ­rats. The delegation’s two Repub­li­cans, Cathy McMor­ris Rodgers (CMR) and Dan New­house, cast Yea votes. As chair of the House Ener­gy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee, McMor­ris Rodgers was also over­see­ing a Repub­li­can-spon­sored ener­gy bill through floor passage.

The ener­gy plan extends gen­er­ous fed­er­al sub­si­dies to the oil and gas indus­try, already enjoy­ing mul­ti-bil­lion-dol­lar prof­its. CMR has made it a touch­stone to vote against the needs of con­stituents in her needy East­ern Wash­ing­ton district.

We need to pay more atten­tion to budgets.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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