Saturday, December 24, 2016

Veterans Affairs will be test of Trump's X-antiX cabinet formula

The LA Times reports that Trump won votes promising to protect veterans, but major veterans groups are rattled by his plans. Here are selected snippets.

Under pressure from conservative activists, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and organizations funded by the Koch Brothers, Trump is contemplating choosing an agency chief who would upend the entire veterans healthcare system. That would come over the protest of the country’s major veterans groups.

An appointment like that could prove an early test of whether the voters who backed Trump in November will continue to stick with him when his agenda smacks into interest groups that have been crusading on their behalf for decades.

And the selection process has set up the Veterans Affairs department to be a possible test case of the political impact of infusing the free-market approach championed by some conservative groups into a major government bureaucracy that serves millions of Trump’s most fervent supporters.

Which way Trump will turn remains very much uncertain. More than a dozen names of potentially serious candidates have been floated, ranging from fairly traditional picks, including some former military officers, to conservative activists.

Sarah Palin ’s name has been raised. Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown has openly sought the job. Some in the transition team have touted Toby Cosgrove, the CEO of the Cleveland Clinic and a cardiac surgeon who served in Vietnam. Obama considered him for the job several years ago.

And those two - Palin and Brown - are qualified by what? It gets much worse.

Most alarming to some of the country’s main veterans groups is Peter Hegseth, the former executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, one of a network of nonprofit groups bankrolled by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. The 36-year-old Hegseth, a Fox News contributor, has met with Trump more than once.

During the campaign, Trump indicated support for the blueprint proposed by the Concerned Veterans group, which would offer all veterans the option of acquiring health care at the doctor of their choosing through a Medicare-style system, instead of routing them automatically through VA facilities.

All this is a tilt towards the X-antiX pattern: for a given agency X, pick as its cabinet rep someone who is antiX. Mas:

Concerned Veterans operates in a very different orbit than most of the major veterans organizations, which are heavily involved in guiding management decisions at the VA and helping their members gain access to services. It instead works with Republican lawmakers to take aim at the department, where problems have proven a politically potent weapon against Democrats in recent elections.

Gingrich is offering his own advice, lobbying Trump to pay no mind to the veterans groups. At an event last week sponsored by the Washington Post, Gingrich said that praise for [current head of the VA] McDonald by veterans service organizations reflected a preference for “access to Veterans Administration offices, rather than making sure that veterans are taken care of.”

Gingrich called for “straight-out war” with the agency’s bureaucracy.

And Draft-Dodging Donald Disses other veterans groups in his apparent tilt toward the un-Concerned Veterans group.

As Trump considers his options, among those advising him on the Veterans Affairs transition team are Darin Selnick, a senior advisor at Concerned Veterans, and Amber Smith, who worked there until recently. The more mainstream veterans groups, meanwhile, are still waiting for their meeting.

“We think it is important for the President-elect to talk with us,” said Verna Jones, executive director of the American Legion.

“We are there. We are around. We collectively represent 5.5 million veterans. He should let us tell him what we see, and talk to him about what we can do.”

But Trump has not done that and Scriber thinks he will not.

What makes all this tricky for Trump is an internal tension in his picks for the cabinet. On the one hand, he supports an expanded military with his picks of generals to head the Defense Department. On the other, his approach to all other agencies (other than commerce and finance) fits the X-antiX formula. Which will prevail?

Scriber thinks all the vets who supported Draft-Dodging Donald are likely to get stiffed.

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