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July 28, 2014 2:54 PM Blue Moon Over V.A.

By Ed Kilgore

I’ll go with Paul Waldman’s announcement of the news we are about to see a “fix” bill for the V.A. health care system fly down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House:

House and Senate negotiators will be announcing today that they have reached a compromise bill, one that is likely to pass and President Obama will certainly sign. This is very good news, but it’s the exception that proves the rule on congressional inaction. The fact that it’s this hard to get a piece of reform legislation that should have been able to be accomplished in a couple of days shows just how impossible the GOP has made governing.
Take a look at what characterizes the VA issue. First, there was a dramatic and troubling scandal. Second, the scandal involved victims that everyone in both parties wants to be seen supporting. Third, the way to fix the problem, at least in the short term, was fairly obvious. Fourth, that solution involved at most some mild ideological discomfort for both parties, but nothing they couldn’t tolerate. Finally and most importantly, addressing the problem involved zero political cost to either party.
How often does an issue like that come around? Once or twice a decade? But that, apparently, is what’s required to actually pass meaningful legislation to get government functioning properly.

I’d add to Paul’s comments that the “fix” is spinnable by both sides in very different directions: Progressive Democrats will say the V.A. health system has been restored as a model of publicly-provided health care after a period of adjustment mostly caused by changes in eligibility, while Republicans will say the “fix” is a first step towards privatizing that same system (i.e., because veterans who cannot be served immediately or who live far from V.A. facilities will received subsidized private care).

But in any event, it’s very true this is a “blue moon” phenomenon, not some sort of bipartisan dawn breaking over the darkened Capitol.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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