House speaker John Boehner spent his Memorial Day weekend at a funeral for an Ohio solider killed in Afghanistan, solemnly attending the services and weeping at the end, during the playing of taps.
Boehner’s respect for the military sacrifice is admirable. Unfortunately, his apparent feelings are not borne out by his voting record. In recent years, Boehner’s Republican caucus in the House of Representatives has taken several votes this year that are substantive insults to veterans and active duty members of the military. The GOP has long enjoyed voters’ trust as the political party most likely to defend the armed services—but the facts tell a different story.
Most of the recent measures taken in Washington to help veterans aim to protect them from the economic crisis. Unemployment and foreclosure no doubt touch many Americans. But many veterans spent much of the past decade fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, only to re-enter civilian life as the economy bottomed out. They faced an even steeper uphill battle than most, often struggling with injury, mental stress, or at the very least, many years out of the country and away from the job market.
Accordingly, lawmakers offered a wide range of bills to assist recent veterans—and Republicans opposed nearly all of them.
Foreclosure in particular has been a problem. Over the past two years, unscrupulous lenders have been improperly foreclosing on military members’ property, often while a solider was serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Other times, soldiers would be foreclosed upon while recovering from a serious injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.
The foreclosure rate in military towns is four times higher than the national average, and the rate of foreclosure within ten miles of a military facility rose 217 percent between 2007 and 2009. Near the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, the foreclosure rate jumped 414 percent.
The House member who represents that district, Representative Gerry Connolly (D-VA), saw what should have been clear to all policymakers—while many Americans were in need of help from the federal government in fighting off foreclosure, military members were particularly stressed. He offered a measure that would offer emergency mortgage relief formembers of the armed services. Republicans killed the bill on a party-line vote.
In February, Republicans passed a budget bill that slashed $75 million that would have funded housing vouchers for homeless veterans. Republicans claim that the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which runs the program, has unused vouchers and so the cuts were fiscally responsible. There’s some truth to the unused vouchers claim; just over 2,400 went unassigned. That’s a bipartisan failure in a country where 136,000 go homeless at some point during every year, but Republican cuts are hardly a solution.
Even before they were in the majority, Republicans often voted against seemingly simple measures to help out members of the armed services over-stressed by nearly a decade of war.
In June 2009, a vast majority of Republicans voted against providing extra money to active duty members of the military subject to “stop-loss” orders—those who had their enlistments involuntarily extended. The bill called for such members to get an extra $500 for every month they were under a stop-loss order, but Republicans opposed it.
Republicans also initially opposed a new GI bill to provide a four-year college education to those who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. They eventually relented, but still opposed extending the benefit to the children of soldiers who had been killed in those conflicts.
At the height of the economic crisis, there was a bill in Congress that would have given a tax credit to businesses that hired unemployed veterans, as well as provide a $250 economic relief payment for any disabled veterans who would no doubt have an even harder time finding work amidst a wide recession. Republicans uniformly opposed the bill.
The worst that legislators can do to members of the military, of course, is to prolong dangerous conflicts overseas without clear reasons. Both parties have no doubt failed military members in this regard in recent years. But this week, Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) offered a bill requesting that the Obama Administration offer a plan for withdrawal from Afghanistan, preferably with an “aggressive” drawdown of troops this summer.
All but eight Democrats supported McGovern’s measure, as did twenty-six Republicans. One of them, Representative Walter Jones (R-NC), offered a passionate eulogy for two troops from his district that were killed this month in Afghanistan—not in active combat but at the hands of an Afghan police officer they were supposed to be training. Jones asked, “What do we say to the mother and father and wife of the last Marine killed to support a corrupt government and a corrupt leader?”
Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX) acknowledged Jones’s anguish over the deaths of troops from his district, but also informed Jones that “decisions can’t be made simply on those emotions.”
Republicans have, alas, been voting without emotion when it comes to members of the military. If Boehner can perhaps impart some of his deeply felt sentiment to members of his caucus, next Memorial Day could be less grim for many service members struggling in a difficult economy.