March 4: Promising Action on Walter Reed
Democrats and Republicans today pledged aggressive oversight of the nation's military and veterans hospitals, following a Washington Post series of reports documenting substandard conditions and bureaucratic tangles that affected the care of war-wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
On CBS's "Face the Nation," Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Conn.), whose Armed Services Committee will hold hearings this week on the Walter Reed situation, disagreed about the Iraq war but pledged a unified front in tackling this problem.
The White House announced Friday that a bipartisan commission would be named to look at whether there are similar problems at other military and veterans hospitals, but Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), on ABC's "This Week," called on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to take a step further and appoint an independent blue-ribbon panel similar to the Sept. 11 commission, perhaps led by former secretary of state Colin Powell.
"I'm worried about if it's this bad at the outpatient facilities at Walter Reed, how is it in the rest of the country? Because Walter Reed is our crown jewel," Schumer said.
Similarly, Lieberman warned that the Walter Reed situation might be indicative of a broader problem affecting military and VA hospitals. Lieberman said he would even support a tax increase to ensure active troops and veterans receive the care they need.
LIEBERMAN: We are not keeping the moral responsibility we have for the men and women who are fighting for us in the war on terrorism, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. ... We've already had hundreds of thousands of new veterans coming out from Iraq and Afghanistan. The numbers are going to grow. That administration is not prepared to give them the treatment that we have a moral responsibility to give them.
The problems at Walter Reed involved the care and living conditions veterans and troops experienced during recovery--not the state-of-the-art treatment they receive on the field and at the hospital's inpatient facilities.
Iraq: Democrats continue efforts to wrest policy
In what has become a weekly exercise, Democrats promised powerful action in the coming weeks on Iraq.
On NBC's "Meet the Press," Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the appropriations defense subcommittee, confirmed that Democrats soon plan to demand that the president certify that troops be fully trained and equipped before being deployed. He also said Democrats would require that troops in Iraq begin to return home within six months.
MURTHA: We can't send troops into combat without equipment; we can't send troops into combat without training; we can't extend it past the one-year boots-on-the- ground policy that they have; and we can't continue to have them over there in Iraq more than a year.
Also appearing on NBC, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said Murtha's focus on ensuring that troops are trained before deployment is a veiled attempt to cut funds for the Iraq war and force redeployment. "He is using the readiness issue to stop the surge, and I want to work with Jack on readiness, but this is not about the readiness issue," Graham said, referring to the president's plan to "surge" 21,500 troops to Iraq.
In fact, "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert asked Murtha precisely about that charge.
RUSSERT: Deep down you'd love to cut funding for the war?
MURTHA: Yeah, what I'd like to see is a change of direction. What I'd like to see is more diplomatic effort. ... We could not respond to an international incident that threatens our national security because we've depleted our national reserve, our ground reserve.
RUSSERT: But why not cut off funding for the war?
MURTHA: Well, you don't have the votes to do that in the first place. We don't have the votes to do it, you can't go forward, and the public doesn't want [it.]
On "This Week," Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) argued that the various Democratic proposals on Iraq reflected the dangers of Congress meddling in the details of running a war.
LOTT: This is about the Congress trying to micro manage the situation. When the going gets tough, they're trying to figure out how to get out. And they can't get their act together on how to defund the troops, so they're having all these different approaches.
Economy watch: Paulson and Rangel
Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson appeared on "This Week" to soothe fears about the economy, after a turbulent week on Wall Street. A decline in China's stock market triggered a worldwide sell-off early in the week, and that along with cautionary remarks from former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan raised concerns about a possible recession later this year.
Paulson said the U.S. has a "healthy economy" and spoke positively of the slower growth experienced recently in some sectors of the economy.
PAULSON: You know, a year ago, when the growth rates were much higher, I was concerned. I said, "Is this going to be sustainable?" Now I'm looking at it and I'm seeing a situation where it looks like we're successfully making the transition. The consumer's strong. Exports have been greater than imports for quarters running, and they're adding to our growth.
Paulson also brushed away concerns that China and Japan hold too much U.S. debt and, thus, too much sway over the future of the U.S. economy.
Turning to domestic matters, Paulson, who left the top spot at Goldman Sachs to take his current post, said he was satisfied with the current system of executive compensation.
A few weeks ago, Bush warned executives that they should be more mindful of their pay, "step up to their responsibilities" and link compensation packages with performance.
Paulson also said the administration is trying to convince Capitol Hill to work on a new prescription for Social Security. (The last administration effort on Social Security failed badly in 2005.) And Paulson even said that in discussions with Democrats, "everything should be on the table" -- including taxes.
On "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, agreed that taxes would be up for discussion in coming months.
Rangel said Democrats are not considering rolling back Bush's tax cuts, but suggested they might be recalibrated to accommodate new programs or targeted to better benfit the middle class. "We have 23 million people in this country that have Alternative Minimum Tax burdens, close to $1 trillion over the next 10 years, and that's not even on the president's radar screen," he said. "And so within the system, there can be more equity without increasing the tax burden."
Following the same theme, Rangel said it is important to look beyond specific economic forecasts to consider the plight of the struggling lower income class.
RANGEL: It seems like we're living in two different worlds, one where they tell us -- the secretary of the treasury -- not to worry, that the economy is secure, and the other where we have 48 million people who don't know from day to day where they're going to get health insurance.
NOTES: Iran, Intelligence and 2008
--IRAN: On CNN's "Late Edition," U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said the United States did not plan to meet face to face with Iranian officials at a summit this week to discuss Iraq's security situation. There are still serious tensions between Iran and the U.S. over the Middle Eastern country's nuclear ambitions, and the U.S. decision to join the security summit was a reversal from previous U.S. policy which shunned any such joint meeting with Iran. "We have not decided at this point with regard to anything bilateral, but we'll be prepared to play our role as constructively as possible," Khalilzad said. "There has been some recent indications that they are interested in a dialogue with regard to Iraq."
--INTELLIGENCE: On "Fox News Sunday," Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), former chairman of the intelligence committee, decried the state of the U.S. intelligence-gathering system. "We still don't have the intelligence community overall to give us, as policymakers, the information that we need to make good decisions in North Korea, Iran and other places."
--2008: Also on Fox, host Chris Wallace grilled Rangel, the New York congressman, about the Democratic presidential race, on the same morning that front runners Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) courted the black vote in visits to Selma, Ala. Rangel's word in that contest is powerful--as an 18-term House member and co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus. Host Chris Wallace asked Rangel about his leanings.
WALLACE: [A]s a New Yorker, are you committed to Hillary Clinton? And wouldn't it be tough for you to sit out the most serious candidacy ever by an African American politician, and certainly the one with the most serious chance of winning? ...
RANGEL: Senator Clinton probably will be the favorite daughter of New York State. I am the dean of the New York State Democratic delegation, and so there's no question that we will be coordinating a campaign for Senator Clinton. I have to admit that I did encourage Senator Barack to actually get involved in the campaign. He's young. He's dynamic. And if he doesn't succeed, he gets another opportunity to run for it. But I told him that if he didn't run, he would hate himself for not testing the waters.
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