Washington - The Bush administration plans to cut funding for veterans' health care two years from now - even as badly wounded troops returning from Iraq could overwhelm the system.
Bush is using the cuts, critics say, to help fulfill his pledge to balance the budget by 2012.
After an increase sought for next year, the Bush budget would turn current trends on their head. Even though the cost of providing medical care to veterans has been growing rapidly - by more than 10 percent in many years - White House budget documents assume consecutive cutbacks in 2009 and 2010 and a freeze thereafter.
The proposed cuts are unrealistic in light of recent VA budget trends - its medical care budget has risen every year for two decades and 83 percent in the six years since Bush took office - sowing suspicion that the White House is simply making them up to make its long-term deficit figures look better.
"Either the administration is willingly proposing massive cuts in VA health care," said Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas, chairman of the panel overseeing the VA's budget. "Or its promise of a balanced budget by 2012 is based on completely unrealistic assumptions."
Edwards said that a more realistic estimate of veterans costs is $16 billion higher than the Bush estimate for 2012.
In fact, even the White House doesn't seem serious about the numbers. It says the long-term budget numbers don't represent actual administration policies. Similar cuts assumed in earlier budgets have been reversed.
The veterans' cuts, said White House budget office spokesman Sean Kevelighan, "don't reflect any policy decisions. We'll revisit them when we do the (future) budgets."
The number of veterans coming into the VA health care system has been rising by about 5 percent a year as the number of people returning from Iraq with illnesses or injuries keep rising. Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans represent almost 5 percent of the VA's patient caseload, and many are returning from battle with grievous injuries requiring costly care, such as traumatic brain injuries.
All told, the VA expects to treat about 5.8 million patients next year, including 263,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Wow. So rarely do you see a government spokesman actually admit, "Oh, no, we're not going to fuck American war vets. We're only saying we're going to fuck American war vets so we can lie about how the budget's going to be balanced. Isn't that better?"
But remember, the Defeatocrats don't support the troops! Only Bush followers support the troops by ... well, not with equipment or protecting their families from bankruptcy or taking care of them after they're wounded, buuuuuut ... even better methods!
Secret methods. Sweeeeet methods.
Deep in their secret patriot place.
You wouldn't understand.
All (weak) joking aside, this leads to a slightly larger issue about the 2008 elections. The next President, Democrat or Republican, is going to have to raise taxes. Period. We're in the shitter, kids, financially. It is crucial that the Democrats list three -- I say three, son, no more no less -- concrete things they are going to do with that money.
"Silly John, tax money goes into a general fund, it can't be directly --"
You, in the back. Shut the fuck up. The point is to work with the metaphors and processes already imprinted on our common experience. In my everyday life, when I spend money, I get some thing. Not "something." "Some thing."
"We're going to raise taxes."
"Holy SHIT! You're going to raise my taxes?"
"No, we're raising mostly corporate and high-income ..."
"Did you hear that? These sonuvabitches are raising taxes! Like they always do!"
"What are you going to do with my money?"
"A lot of very good stuff."
"We're passing a millionaire's tax, to pay for the care of wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war."
"What are you going to do with --"
"We said. Take care of wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan War. Problem?"
"Of course not."
Simplistic? Of course. But transmittable. Not just from candidate to voter, but amongst voters. This element of -- here's the word, I know you hate it -- memetics seems to be an afterthought in most progressive political efforts. But the voter as vector for your ideas is far more powerful than 90% of the candidate's presentation of these ideas. Most people see a presidential candidate on their nightly news for maybe two minutes. Sometimes they read the slug headline on their AOL home page or see it one the Yahoo News screen at the local mall. Any substantive discussion of politics is within family and coworker communities.
The point is, yes, we do need to build political communities. But more important, we need to infect existing ones.
You're starting to see with the YouTube campaign video. However, there's a tendency to believe that somehow the technology is creating something new. Of course not. YouTube just makes video more transmittable. We need to do the same things with the ideas themselves to work in the medium of person-to-person interaction. The dizzying bit is that the Web extends our reach; we -- anyone -- can present our ideas to a startlingly large number of people very easily. But unless those ideas then hook into inter-personal communication, they skate off the surface and back out into the ether. I don't care how clever your ad is (it'll quickly be replaced by the next bit of video ephemera), or how pretty your speech is. Or how inspiring. If a listener doesn't come away with concrete ideas he can then transmit to other voters for you, the effort is not effective.
End of the day, stripping all the shiny new tech tools away, it's about crafting big thunky words people can remember in their very busy brains long enough to say with their clumsy old mouths to other people.