A Veteran Friendly Congress
Shortly after the election in November some pundit—’his’ name escapes me—said, “If you didn’t like the 112th Congress you’ll hate the 113th Congress.” I beg to differ with this person. I am cautiously—very cautiously—optimistic that at least from a veteran’s point of view we may be slightly better off than we were. Yes, there are slightly fewer veterans in the 113th Congress, but that actually may be to our betterment. Two of the Senate veterans from WWII are no longer in Congress—Senator Lugar of Penn. was defeated in the GOP primary, and Senator Inouye of HI died. Some of the veterans who were in the 112th in the House were associated with the Tea Party Caucus. Fortunately, a few of them lost their re-election bids and were replaced with somewhat saner people—it is hoped.
All in all, while they are somewhat fewer in number, the newest members of the 113th Congress are younger and are veterans of more recent conflicts. A good deal of the optimism that I hold for the 113th Congress—at least in the House—rests on the shoulders and prosthetic legs of Representative Tammy Duckworth (Illinois’s 8th congressional district). She lost both legs and partial use of her right arm while co-piloting a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in November 2004 when an RPG struck the aircraft.
After a lengthy recovery and rehabilitation process at Walter Reed Army Hospital, Rep. Duckworth was appointed Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs on November 21, 2006, by the Illinois Governor. She worked to develop state programs giving tax credits to employers who hire veterans who served in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Desert Storm; more state grants to service organizations; and backing for below-market mortgages for veterans. She was honored by Chicago’s Access Living for “her extraordinary commitment to veterans with disabilities.” In 2007 Duckworth was honored by the non-profit group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America with the “Veterans Leadership Award,” in recognition of her dedication to the nation’s newest generation of veterans. In May 2010, Duckworth was awarded an honorary doctorate by Northern Illinois University. She is currently serving as an LtCol of the Illinois Army National Guard
On February 3, 2009, Duckworth was nominated to be the Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. The Senate confirmed her for the position on April 22. On June 30, 2011, Duckworth resigned from her position to launch her campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives in Illinois’ 8th Congressional District. She had lost in 2006 her congressional race by less than 4 percent. During the 2012 campaign she handily defeated her first term GOP opponent, William ‘Joe’ Walsh, 55 percent to 45 percent. Her opponent was a Tea Party favorite who adamantly opposed any and all of the President’s proposals on any topic, once famously declaring that should be no ‘Safety Net’ (meaning Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid) because it wasn’t in the US Constitution. From my perspective this was a win-win trade-off. One Tea Party Darling out of Congress and a real veteran’s advocate coming in.
Another new face in the House who raises my hopes for veterans finally getting their recognition and promised benefits is Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii’s 2nd District. Tulsi is a combat veteran who served two tours in the Middle East and was the first woman honored by the Kuwaiti military with an award of appreciation for her work there.
There were a few more wins in the November 2012 elections. The House ‘Tea Party Caucus’ (chaired by Congresswoman Michelle Bachman) went into the election with 49 members. They came out of the election with only no more than 45 and maybe less. I’m having a difficult time getting updated info on the TP Caucus (Yes, I recognize the irony). I do know that Allen West (he represented my former stomping grounds in south Florida and was (in)famous for some of his outrageous positions on foreign and domestic affairs) has been ousted. Another good thing for veterans, as much of what he advocated would have created even more of us.
So, while there may be fewer veterans in the 113th Congress, those who are there are younger and fewer of them are Tea Party affiliated. It is reported that 85 of the 435 House members are veterans (down from 91 in the 112th) and 19 of the 100 Senators are veterans (down from 25 previously). If it shakes out that the newly elected veterans in the 113th Congress—on either side of the aisle—respect their past service and recognize the tremendous debt owed to all of our nation’s veterans, they will put aside partisan politics and work for the betterment of their comrades-in-arms. I will be following closely the committee assignments and voting records of this freshman class of Congressman. One can but hope.
Another facet of the 113th Congress that may bear watching is the fact that more women were elected in November of 2012 than ever before. The Senate has more women than ever and so does the House. Women are on both sides of the aisle in bigger numbers and if I were a chauvinistic misogynist—like many of our more senior representatives—I’d mind my P’s & Q’s with them. One thing that I’ve learned through many years of experience is that women as a species work better together in groups. They are pragmatic rather than dogmatic and tend to compromise a lot better than men do. Maybe it’s because women aren’t ruled by testosterone and will stop at nothing to arrive at a workable solution to any problem. If the women of the 113th can get together across party line it may be that the gridlock will be loosened and the country will be much the better for it.
We can only wait and see what happens. I suspect that the leadership on both sides of the aisle, in both houses, is waiting with bated breath to see how it all shakes out over the coming months. We have huge problems to address and the men don’t seem to be able to achieve anything meaningful for the long term. Maybe we should give the ‘Newbies’ a crack at solving some of this stuff. I think that bipartisanship is more readily achievable by the distaff side of the equation than by any of the guys that are running the store now.
Until next month take care and I hope all of you are enjoying your winter. I know that I am enjoying mine here in sunny Mexico. Adios amigos!