Romney stumbles badly on veterans’ care

Ordinarily, presidential candidates wouldn’t pick Veterans’ Day to annoy veterans. Mitt Romney must have missed the memo.

At an event in South Carolina, the former Massachusetts governor, who has no background in the military, suggested he’d like to “introduce some private sector competition” into veterans’ health care, at least partially privatizing the existing system. Given the excellence of the care our veterans receive, it seemed like a bizarre thing to say. Indeed, the VFW was not at all pleased.

When reporters asked the Romney campaign to explain, his spokesperson said the Republican candidate is “only interested in providing veterans with the world-class care they deserve and reversing the defense cuts and failed policies of the Obama administration.”

None of that statement makes any sense.

Paul Krugman took on the most glaring policy problem with Romney’s approach.

First, you know what voucherization would mean in practice: the vouchers would be inadequate, and become more so over time, so that veterans who don’t make enough money to top them up would fail to receive essential care. Patriotism!

Second, the VA is one of the great policy success stories of the past two decades…. So naturally Romney wants to privatize it. Because let’s remember, he’s the serious Republican.

Actually, this is quite consistent with the rest of his health care ideas. Basically, he wants to replace Medicare with Romneycare/Obamacare; this despite the fact that the only reason Romneycare/Obamacare runs through private insurers, rather than being straight single-payers, is as a political compromise. Medicare has lots of problems, but it’s more cost-effective than private insurance — as demonstrated by the utter failure of Medicare Advantage to save, as opposed to costing, money.

So, our serious Republican is committed on ideological grounds to demolishing successful programs and replacing them with conservative fantasies that have failed repeatedly in the past.

But there’s one other thing that’s worth mentioning. The campaign’s statement said Romney is committed to “reversing the defense cuts … of the Obama administration.”

I realize Romney can be a little slow when it comes to understanding the nuances of current events, so let’s make this easy to understand: Obama has increased defense spending, and an increase is the opposite of a cut.

Maybe Romney would understand this better if we put in visual form. Here are the Pentagon budgets over the last six years, with the red columns showing defense spending under Bush, and the blue columns showing defense spending under Obama.

If Romney seriously believes this shows a decrease in defense spending, he should forget about the White House and go back to elementary school.

Romney clearly wants to be taken seriously on these issues, which suggests he should probably take the time to brush up on the details. The guy’s been running for president non-stop for nearly six years, and the fact that he’s still confused about the basics isn’t encouraging.

This isn’t as funny as Rick Perry’s “brain freeze,” but it’s arguably much more important.