July 14, 2005
The Veterans Affairs affair Is all Bush's faultBy Noel Sheppard
Well, well, well...the Department of Veterans Affairs has a fiscal 2005 budget deficit due to exploding health care costs.
Imagine that. A U.S. government agency spent more money than Congress and the president budgeted for it. Oh the humanity!
And whom would you suppose the left is blaming for this dastardly miscalculation?
Senator Murray certainly found a culprit:
Don't you just love it when a member of Congress who almost never has voted against an appropriations bill or for a spending reduction refers to budget shortfalls as either being deliberate or indicative of gross incompetence? How does that pot refer to that kettle again?
Whatever, it appears that the U.S. government isn't immune to rising health care costs, and, like the rest of corporate America — as well as a large chunk of its citizens — didn't properly budget for these increases.
Yet, what is truly fascinating is that this shortfall is estimated to be around $1 billion, which in the context of a federal budget with projected outlays of $2.479 trillion — and a newly revised $315 billion deficit of its own — doesn't seem like much to squawk about.
But, that certainly won't stop the president's detractors.
The question of course is how accurate is it to blame this problem on the current administration. Could this be just another politically motivated attack similar to what Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was avowing last year during the campaign when he regularly suggested that President Bush was under—funding the VA even though the facts proved otherwise?
Well, let's take a look at the history of this government agency to see what the truth really is.
The Veterans Administration was created back in 1930 by Herbert Hoover to consolidate the veterans assistance programs overseen by the former U.S. Veterans' Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department, and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.
Then, in 1988, President Reagan created a new cabinet—level Department of Veterans Affairs that replaced the Veterans Administration beginning March 1989.
As a result, in its current form, the VA is the second largest government agency behind the Department of Defense, employing an astounding 218,000 people.
Yet, the data from the Office of Management and Budget suggests that this agency has been dramatically under—funded for over five decades.
For instance, in 1947, the budget for veterans' benefits and services was $6.344 billion. As amazing as it might seem, in Lyndon Johnson's last budget in fiscal 1969, the VA received $7.670 billion —— a shockingly low 21% increase in 22 years.
During this same period, the total spending by our federal government increased by 432%, which means that VA spending in the two plus decades following World War II — in the midst of the Korean and Vietnam wars — increased at only 4.8% the rate of the aggregate federal budget. Wow!
I guess Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson weren't very big on veterans' affairs. Or, could it have been the Democrat—controlled Congress during this period was blocking increases in VA spending?
Regardless, from 1969 through 2001, the budget for the VA went from $7.670 billion to $45 billion, a 486% increase while our total federal spending during the same period increased tenfold. As a result, the combined growth in the VA under presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, and Clinton was less than one half the rate of growth of the entire federal budget.
By contrast, under Bush 43, the VA budget has gone from $45 billion to $68 billion in fiscal 2005, representing a 51% increase during his first term. This compares to a 32% increase in the total federal budget during the same period.
This means that not only has this president been the first since World War II to increase VA spending at the rate of growth of the federal budget, he actually increased funding for this agency at 1.57 times that growth.
Yet, Senator Kerry last year repeatedly stated during the campaign that VA benefits had declined since Bush took office. And, now that there is a budget shortfall due to spiraling health care costs, the left is once again suggesting to the American people that Bush is turning his back on America's veterans.
Wouldn't it be nice if the facts actually supported these assertions, or is that asking too much from our elected officials and their media minions?
Noel Sheppard is an economist and writer residing in Northern California. He welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.