At the moment most Republicans are looking at the VA scandal that broke out in Phoenix as a sheer political bonanza without any long-term significance: a federal agency responsible for an especially valued constituency (veterans) has screwed up fatally on Barack Obama’s “watch.” That’s enough to powerfully reinforce a number of important conservative memes about Obama (and indirectly, Democrats): he and his people are incompetent, they don’t have the normal patriotic impulse to take care of veterans, and when held accountable they stonewall and lie.
But a few voices are beginning to figure out how to link the VA mess not only to the overriding issues of Obamacare, but to the “socialized medicine” treatment of Obamacare that would be applied to Medicare, too, if the political climate was right.
Here’s the Cleveland Plan Dealer‘s Kevin O’Brien spelling it all out:
Putting a government bureaucracy in charge of one’s health is a gamble likely to end badly.
And yet, if Obamacare stands, that is precisely the gamble each and every American eventually will take.
There is no better predictor of the course of a single-payer medical system in the United States than the VA system, because it is a single-payer system….
Americans who watch this story play out and fail to make the clear and obvious connection to Obamacare will be guilty of willful ignorance. The systemic flaw is identical. It’s just magnified on a massive scale. Rather than making a false promise to treat all of the ills of a relatively few sick and injured military veterans, Obamacare has put the federal government on the path to taking responsibility for the medical needs — and the attendant costs — of the entire U.S. population.
Like most conservative attacks on “bureaucracy,” O’Brien’s ignores the powerful bureaucracies that operate in the private sector with even less accountability. As TNR’s Jonathan Cohn puts it:
It’s worth remembering that some of the problems veterans are having right now have very little to do with the VA and a whole lot to do with American health care. As Phil Longman, author of Best Care Anywhere, noted in his own congressional testimony last week, long waits for services are actually pretty common in the U.S.—even for people with serious medical conditions—because the demand for services exceeds the supply of physicians. (“It took me two-and-a-half years to find a primary care physician in Northwest Washington who was still taking patients,” he noted.) The difference is that the VA actually set guidelines for waiting times and monitors compliance, however poorly. That doesn’t happen in the private sector. The victims of those waits suffer, too. They just don’t get the same attention.
But nonetheless, the longer the VA scandal stays in the public eye, the more we will hear arguments the VA should be broken up and its services privatized with federal regulations and subsidies replacing federal bureaucracies–creating a system much like the one contemplated by Obamacare, as it happens. But at the same time, we’ll be told Obamacare itself is a failure because it involves the government in guarteeing heath care. And where conservatives speak to each other quietly, it will be understood that Medicare is subject to the same complaints and deserves the same fate.
No wonder most GOP pols confine themselves to content-free carping about Obama being responsible for the VA scandal.