"Times have changed since McCain needed veterans services so urgently. And for many of those thirty-five years, McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, the candidate who talks the best talk on veterans issues, has demonstrated a tendency to work against veterans' interests, voting time after time against funding and in favor of privatizing services--in other words, of rolling back the VA's improvements by supporting some of the same policies that wrecked Walter Reed.
During a March 2005 Senate budget debate, McCain voted to kill an amendment that would have "increase[d] veterans medical care by $2.8 billion in 2006." That amendment lacked an assured funding stream, but lest one mistake this incident for a maverick's stance against budget-busting, there's more. Just a year later McCain voted against an amendment that would have "increase[d] Veterans medical services funding by $1.5 billion in FY 2007 to be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes." Two days after it failed, he voted to kill "an assured stream of funding for veterans' health care that [would] take into account the annual changes in the veterans' population and inflation to be paid for by restoring the pre-2001 top rate for income over $1 million, closing corporate tax loopholes and delaying tax cuts for the wealthy." That amendment died quietly, forty-six to fifty-four.
In September 2006 McCain voted to table an amendment to a Defense appropriations bill that would have prevented the department from contracting out support services at Walter Reed. The amendment was indeed tabled--by a vote of fifty to forty-eight, the sort of margin a true veterans' senator might have been able to flip if he really cared about veterans' healthcare.
"John McCain voted against veterans in 2004, '05, '06 and '07," says Jeffrey David Cox, who spent twenty-two years as a VA nurse before moving to the American Federation of Government Employees, where he serves as secretary-treasurer (AFGE represents employees of several federal agencies, including the VA). Cox is right. Under Bush, McCain has voted for measures that target so-called Priority-7 and Priority-8 veterans (those whose injuries are not service-related and whose incomes are above a low minimum threshold) for annual fees, higher co-pays and even suspended enrollment. Priority-7 veterans without dependents earn more than $24,644 annually. Priority-8 veterans without dependents earn an annual minimum of $27,790."
I am wary of using this as a political issue if the facts aren't there. On the other hand, if the facts are there, then it ought to be a political issue. So, even though I trust Brian Beutler, I decided to check.
I put the wonky results, with links to all the roll call votes, below the fold. Short version: during the last four years (all I checked), McCain has supported basic appropriations for vets. However, when there are two competing proposals, he generally chooses the cheaper one, and often, when only one proposal to increase benefits is available, he opposes it. But, as Beutler says, this doesn't seem to be because he is in general in favor of fiscal discipline: in 2006, in particular, he voted against several bills that actually tried not just to increase spending on vets, but to pay for it, in one case voting for an identical bill that was not paid for.
If you think that we ought to be spending more money on veterans' benefits and health care, it's not a very good record. (Brandon Friedman thinks it's part of a larger pattern. I think he's right, though I haven't marched through all the bills I'd need to look at to lay it out.)
I used the following rough method: the Senate's roll call database has little descriptions of all the bills and amendments being voted on. So I called up the last four years, and searched for "veterans", which (I hope) pulled up all the votes on bills where veterans' issues played a significant role. (Note: these little descriptions are, I think, the source of the quotes in Beutler's article, in case anyone was wondering who, exactly, said that the amendment McCain voted against in March 2005 would have "increase[d] veterans medical care by $2.8 billion in 2006.") I omitted a couple of bills that seemed less important (iirc, on concerned a memorial.)
Here are the results:
2005: McCain voted for an amendment to the bankruptcy bill "clarifying the safe harbor" for low-income vets and people called to active duty, but voted against an amendment "to protect servicemembers and veterans from means testing in bankruptcy, to disallow certain claims by lenders charging usurious interest rates to servicemembers, and to allow servicemembers to exempt property based on the law of the State of their premilitary residence." He did vote for a subsequent amendment that disallowed means testing of disabled veterans in bankruptcy, but that did not contain the other protections in the earlier amendment.
McCain voted against two amendments that would have waived budget rules and allowed for $1,975,183,000 for veterans' health care. He then voted for an amendment that would have raised spending on veterans' health care by $80 million. When the Veterans' appropriations bill this amendment amended came up for a vote, McCain is listed as "Not Voting". (It passed 96-0.)
About three weeks later, another bill came up, appropriating another $1.5 billion for veterans' health care. McCain voted for it, along with 94 of his colleagues (the rest were not there.) He also voted for an appropriations bill for military construction and the VA, along with 97 of his colleagues. But he voted against a bill to increase spending on mental health by $500 million a year for the next five years, against the bill Beutler mentioned, which would have increased spending on veterans medical care by $2.8 billion in 2006, and for an alternative bill that increased spending by $410 million instead.
2006: In Feb. 2006, Chris Dodd submitted a bill that would have raised the capital gains tax and the dividend tax on people making over $1 million a year, and used the money to pay for $16 billion in increases in veterans' health care, benefits, and the improvement of VA hospitals. McCain voted against it. Sen. Grassley submitted an amendment that was exactly like Dodd's, only without including any tax increases, budget offsets, or anything else to pay for it. Since that bill passed by unanimous consent, there is no record of McCain voting on it; however, since that vote took place just before the recorded vote on Dodd's amendment, McCain was certainly in the building; had he wished to object to appropriating $16 billion without paying for it, he surely could have. Likewise, he voted to instruct the Senate conferees that funding be found for this, without specifying how; but against more specific instructions involving raising taxes on millionaires.
Later, along with all other Senators, he voted to increase the amount available for veterans' health care spending in the budget resolution by $823 million, but against an amendment, offered the same day, that would have raised that amount by $1.5 billion, and would have paid for it by closing corporate tax loopholes. He later voted against adding $430 million for outpatient care for vets, against giving the Department of Veterans Affairs an additional $20 million or medical facilities, and for the general Veterans Affairs appropriations bill.
2007: McCain did not vote on a cloture motion for an emergency supplemental bill involving veterans' funding. (It passed 97-0.) The next day, he voted against the bill itself; a month later, he did not vote on the conference committee report. He voted for a later emergency appropriations bill that included funding for Veterans' Affairs, along with Iraq war funding and a lot of other stuff. He voted against an amendment that would have limited the VA's ability to use contractors, and for the general VA appropriations bill.
2008: McCain voted for a bill that would have provided (among other things) "tax relief to America's troops and veterans." He did not vote on a cloture motion for bill that increased life insurance, housing, and other benefits for disabled veterans, on an amendment increasing the benefits in that bill, or on the bill itself.
McCain also did not vote on an amendment proposed by Lindsey Graham, which would have increased veterans' educational benefits, but by much less than Webb's bill. Graham's bill was generally seen as a way to give Republicans who voted against Webb's bill political cover. McCain co-sponsored it.