Political Observers: VA Scandal Differs From Other Obama Debacles

Friday, 23 May 2014 09:36 PM

By Todd Beamon

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The spiraling scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs over deadly treatment delays and falsified waiting lists is setting itself apart from the other controversies that have plagued the Obama administration, Republicans and political observers tell Newsmax.

"The VA scandal is different because it is one that every American can relate to," said Democratic pollster and analyst Doug Schoen. "Everyone has a relative who has been a veteran who've put themselves in harm's way to protect this country.

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"Every American can relate to the horrific nature of the abuses that are alleged to have gone on at VA hospitals — abuses that have gone on for too long, involving too many people," Schoen said.

Unlike the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service — even the widespread snooping by the National Security Agency — reports that some veterans may have died because of the secret lists that some VA centers used to cover up failures have united opposition on many fronts.

Several Democrats joined with Republicans and veterans groups this week to demand the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. President Barack Obama vowed to "fix whatever is wrong is wrong" with the agency and named a top aide to investigate it.

The GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly passed the VA Accountability Act, which empowers the secretary to remove senior executive employees based on performance, with broad Democratic support. But the Senate, which Obama's party controls, failed to back a similar measure.

"You're breaking into an area that crosses party lines," debate expert and pollster Matt Towery told Newsmax. "When you start talking about the VA failing the vets who have served our country, you start to irritate and irk people who are both Democrats and Republicans.

"It's different, but it's not really that different," Towery added, comparing the VA with the other debacles. "In this case, it crosses party lines, and so everyone is outraged. With the IRS, and when it came to Benghazi, not everyone was outraged."

But Republican Rep. Paul Gosar said the scandal pointed to a more fundamental premise. The two-term congressman represents Arizona, where reports of at least 40 veterans dying while awaiting treatment first surfaced last month.

"It comes down to the mantra of the promises made by this administration," he told Newsmax. "If the greatest of our nation, the men and women who've served to protect our liberties and freedoms, can't get healthcare and can't be taken care of, who can?

"This is what scares everybody," Gosar added, likening the VA to Obamacare's goal of a massive single-payer healthcare system. "Here's one that doesn't work. This is exactly what it looks like.

"If we can't give it, with the promises we made to our veterans, this is what's coming down the road," he said. "And there's a face with this. Everybody knows a veteran."

That's why both Republicans and Democrats must tread carefully in how they respond, especially as the November congressional elections near.

Further, it all begins with Obama, the observers told Newsmax.

The president, who is under fire from the GOP for not speaking out sooner, named Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors to lead an investigation into the VA and make recommendations for improvement. Republicans have called for an independent inquiry.

"Without even taking a poll, you could say that this story that continues to drip, drip, drip out would be off the Richter scale with the American public," Towery said. "It's why President Obama came out and finally made some strong statements, because it appeared that he was being unrealistic again.

"But the question is, will he get to the bottom?"

It is especially critical for the Democrats, who risk losing the Senate this fall, said Tobe Berkovitz, an associate professor of advertising at Boston University.

"The Democrats are not going to toe the party line on this one," he told Newsmax. "Any Democrat who is up for re-election will have to break with the president as long as Obama refuses really to take any firm action.

"There's just too much on the line for the Democrats," he added. "It's one thing to stay with the president on the IRS and Benghazi, but they're not going to be able to stay with and support the president if he doesn't take some firmer action and make some really concrete statements."

The GOP must not be too hasty, either.

"They have to be careful not to overplay their hand," Berkovitz cautioned. "It is something that the American public is ashamed of, feels deeply about — and the Republicans really have to be smart and sensible and aggressive when it comes to this whole failure."

As such, "they argue for change," Schoen told Newsmax. "Hopefully, they will argue for change and for a new set of policies to promote growth, reconciliation and to fix abuses that have gone on at the VA."

Perhaps the best thing for the GOP to do is to "not take advantage" of the scandal, Towery advised.

"The GOP has, over history, been its biggest enemy because they overreach. The public can perceive overreaching immediately.

"When you overreach, you create — in the minds of independent voters, voters who have not already decided — the concept that you're biased and that you're going in one direction and not being fair," he added.

"What the GOP can do to help themselves is to very much make this a nonpartisan issue.

For his part, Gosar told Newsmax that "we have to solve this. We've lacked the leadership and oversight and directives to do this.

"That's the problem: America wants to see the administration and the executive branch hold their promise and actually do something," he added. "We see nothing. Time is everything to a veteran who's in need."

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