VA spending increased from $61.8 billion in fiscal 2004 to $109.6 billion in fiscal 2010, a 77 percent increase, according to the Congressional Research Service. More than half of that is mandatory spending, giving authorizers a stronger than usual voice in setting priorities.
Miller contends that veterans, better than most Americans, grasp the need to get the deficit under control for the good of the country.
“What has been very clear is that they understand where this country is financially and that the last decade we’ve been able to provide record increases in veterans spending,” he said. “But that would not be the case in the future as we try to rein in our deficit and dealing with the vet community, they have all pledged while continuing to serve their memberships and constituencies, to work with the committee to find ways to help [in the delivery of] the services that many of them participate in.”
An Evolving Relationship
Veterans groups were at first wary of Filner, a down-the-line liberal who never served in the military.
He claimed the chairmanship of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee after the Democrats recaptured the House in 2006, besting Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), who continues to serve on the panel and is a candidate to replace Filner as ranking member in the next Congress.
“I think they were nervous about me because I’m a liberal, but I think they saw my commitment and aggressiveness in challenging the bureaucracy,” said Filner, who has served on the committee since first coming to Congress in 1993.
He credits the late Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) for steering him in that direction. Cranston had chaired the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the other chamber, and urged Filner to seek the House assignment because it was good politics for a liberal to champion the cause of veterans.
Filner’s disdain for the VA became obvious during his long tenure on the panel.
In 2007 he infamously launched a profanity-laced tirade at VA headquarters over the department’s failure to protect veterans’ personal data from computer theft.
Earlier this year he lectured Robert Petzel, the undersecretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration, for the agency’s slowness in responding to safety problems.
“We’ve gone through this before, sir,” Filner told Petzel at a May hearing. “You give me a prepared statement, say everything’s fine, but you neglect the basic issues of communication and accountability.”
Lawmakers who have worked closely with Filner say he is a difficult negotiator who rarely compromises. One Democratic colleague, who has known Filner for three decades, said: “We really don’t know Bob Filner. He doesn’t let us in.”
The list of possible successors for the top Democratic spot on the committee includes, in order of seniority, Reps. Corrine Brown (Fla.) and Silvestre Reyes (Texas) and Michaud. Ultimately, the Democratic Caucus will determine the successor.
So far, none of the possibilities excite veterans’ groups.
Tetz said one person not on that list — Rep. Tim Walz (Minn.), who ranks ninth of 11 Democrats on the committee — “speaks from the heart.”