Shinseki Mess Makes Winners -- and One Big Loser -- in the Florida Delegation

By: Jeff Henderson | Posted: June 2, 2014 3:55 AM
Corrine Brown, Eric Shinseki, Marco Rubio

Corrine Brown, Eric Shinseki, Marco Rubio

The Florida congressional delegation might have more than its share of backbenchers and small fish but political leaders from the state played a big role in the scandals surrounding VA which brought Eric Shinseki down on Friday. 

Jeff Miller emerged as one of the biggest winners in the whole Shinseki fiasco. The Panhandle congressman chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee and was on center stage in recent weeks promoting his bill to give the VA secretary more room to fire incompetent employees and urging the White House to reform the VA department. Miller ensured the effort to oust Shinseki and improve the VA was not a partisan outing. With Miller looking to be promoted to chair the House Intelligence Committee, he helped his cause with his deft handling here.
Joe Garcia and Patrick Murphy also scored some points. Garcia was one of the first members of his party to call for new leadership at VA. Republicans would love to take Garcia down in November but he deftly managed to avoid giving them an issue on this front. Murphy has generally played the middle even better than Garcia has. He did it again here by calling for Shinseki’s resignation even before some Republicans did.

Other Florida politicians also emerged with credit here. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson have both teamed up to back Miller’s bill in the Senate. Rubio urged Shinseki to resign while Nelson’s mantra that “heads should roll” at VA offered a pretty definitive take on what should happen. While he’s usually one of the more quiet members of the Florida delegation, Rich Nugent was one of the first congressmen to demand Shinseki resign.

But there was also a big loser in the Florida delegation in Corrine Brown. The longtime Democrat congresswoman was one of Shinseki’s biggest cheerleaders on Capitol Hill, constantly defending him and praising his record. Even with reports about problems with VA hospitals in Gainesville and South Florida, Brown kept insisting there were no major issues in Florida. Brown will likely avoid any major political fallout in her heavily Democratic district but she did herself no favors by her pathetic performance on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and by always having Shinseki’s back.

Besides Brown, the other big losers are the Republicans looking to knock off Garcia and Murphy. Garcia has made more than a few recent blunders, including a video of the congressman picking his ear with his finger and then eating the earwax going viral and claiming “communism works” in an online discussion. But Garcia handled this well, giving no additional ammo to Carlos Curbelo, David Rivera and his other Republican opponents. Likewise, the pack of Republicans chasing Murphy made no headway as the Democrat probably extended his lead by showing once again he has no problem breaking with his party when he needs to. Despite initial high hopes, this is a race a lot of conservatives and Republicans are starting to feel more pessimistic about.

Tallahassee political writer Jeff Henderson wrote this analysis exclusively for Sunshine State News.

Comments (2)

COL (Ret) Chuck Winn
12:22PM JUN 2ND 2014
A bipartisan comprehensive legislative fix of four decades of bad policy and legislation is the only solution. The first and most immediate step must be to end the absurd tenure protections that unionized federal employees enjoy who are with the VA health care system, and ensure performance and accountability.

The VA problems are not due to any leadership or management failures on GEN Shinseki’s part, but are systemic due to dysfunctional policies reinforced by decades of bad legislation formulated by both political parties. GEN Shinseki's resignation will only result in the appointment of a replacement bureaucrat and a few superficial repairs and derail the current momentum for major reform.

Congressmen of both parites must make to tough calls to tightening up access to VA health care. It is ridiculous to grant "wartime veterans" status to bums who separated with 180 days of service and General Discharges during the Vietnam era; or to persons who served absurdly brief periods of low risk stateside and peacetime service in later years. The current practice of awarding "service connected" disabilities for hemoroids, sleep apnea, sporting injuries and other conditions not actually caused by performing military duties must also end. This only causes delays and hardship to our combat wounded and operationally injured service men and women and their families.

National leaders of the Veterans organizations must also demonstrate the guts to make the touch choices. Do we want a robust, world class health care system for those who honorably completed their service obligations? Or do we want to continue to squander scarce VA resources on programs like veterans courts and subsidizing contractors to build and run halfway houses for people who never completed basic training?
11:26AM JUN 2ND 2014
Jeff Miller has been aware of the problems with the VA for a long time; he has done/said absolutely nothing until now. Any comments and actions he proposes now are nothing more than a bid to climb the political ladder. He is angling for a higher profile "job"-if ANY position in Congress can rightfully be called such. He badly wants the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee and has shown himself willing to say anything that will possibly help him attain this. If Miller, the proud and self-professed " most conservative Member of Congress" actually is promoted to chair the Intelligence Committee, the previous shenanigans in that Committee will seem as child's play. Such is a truly alarming thought.
Miller ,in recent weeks, has availed himself of all opportunities to be seen and heard pontificating on Faux News and any other media outlet that will take him. Prior to the publicity about the conditions at many, if not all, in VA facilities, no one other than those whom he purportedly represents had ever heard of Jeff Miller; he has taken every opportunity to put himself front and center on the national stage. Politics as usual.
As one who resides in his District, I can attest to the fact that 98% of the letters/emails, and questions addressed to him are answered with the form reply stating that "he receives thousands (???! )
of communications daily and therefore it may take him more time to answer constituent concerns-BUT-he greatly values our input because it helps him better govern those whom he represents". I do not recall ever receiving a follow-up answer from his office. The reason he does not respond to constituents is because he is one of the most -well-traveled Members of Congress-all at taxpayer expense. He has little time to spend in the District he "represents" or even the State of Florida.
The Republican machine has a stranglehold on the northwestern part of the State; this due to the extreme gerrymandering and voter-suppression laws put in place by the Republicans in Tallahassee. I and many others would love to see a viable Democrat run against Miller. He is the epitome of why we need term limits for every elected office, most especially Congressional seats.
All agree the rat's nest at the VA-at all levels - must be addressed and rectified. For those such as Jeff Miller to profess such concern now reeks of political gamesmanship. Were he and others so worried about the veterans' health care, the myriad problems would have been taken care of long ago. The entire process came to light during the reign of Bush, Jr. At that time, the Congress had bigger fish to fry-their re-elections, 2 wars, and a crumbling economy. The debacle in the VA system has certainly not been a secret for all these years-it merely did not warrant the "concern" that Congress has now been forced to address.

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