Scott Brown was the Ranking Member on the Committee today. The Ranking Member is the minority party person who is leading the charge. The majority party gets to chair the hearings. How did Brown end up the Ranking Member?
Senator Richard Burr was out and had designated Brown to be the Ranking Member.
I tend to think there are two reasons for that (it has happened a great deal in the last months). First, Burr knows Brown's up for re-election and it gives Brown some media attention. Second, Brown's a pit bull on veterans issues which Burr is as well and they relate that way.
The hearing needed a pit bull today. The VA repeatedly attempted to minimize and justify their actions -- even with that still fresh report from the IG.
Brown quickly grasped that he would have to really bear down on the VA's William Schoenhard to get even the basic numbers.
For example, last week it was reported that the VA would be hiring 1600 health care workers. As Brown pointed out, they have previously stated they needed to hire 1500. Now just asking this question was a herculean task because Schoenhard couldn't stop interrupting.
Finally, Brown declared, "I know but is it in addition to the 1500?"
The VA wanted to split hairs. Repeatedly. Finally, Brown cut him off with, "So it's 3400 positions you're going to be filling?" These are not difficult questions or shouldn't be. But everything was like pulling teeth with Schoenhard.
For example? Brown asked, "How long do you think it will take to fill these positions?"
Schoenhard took it as an invitation to filibuster.
Brown had to redirect him after Schoenhard blabbered away for approximately a full minute. "Give me an idea," he insisted.
Finally, he gets the answer of four or five months.
Why was it so damn difficult for the VA to supply such a basic answer?
Meanwhile, Brown pointed out, "you have soldiers who are killing themselves." So why aren't they getting the help they need?
You might argue: Because the VA doesn't have enough workers!
No, that doesn't cut it. As Brown pointed out, "On a fee basis you can refer out people who need help." Schoenhard agreed that he could do that. Which prompted Brown to ask why more weren't being referred out instead of put on a list that might take a month or two for the veteran to see a doctor?
Brown explained that only 2% of the veteran population was referred out last year.
To which Schoenhard responded, "Yes, we do that where we can."
Was he on drugs?
That fact had long ago been established in the exchange.
Brown talked about how "immediate care" to him means immediate. So if the VA's not able to serve the veterans in need, he said, they need to refer veterans to non-VA doctors for help.
They do that, Schoenhard wanted to insist. Again, it had long ago been established that only 2% had been referred out last year. But Schoenhard wanted to insist on top of the referral issue that the VA was providing veterans with immediate care.
Before we go further, grasp that the IG report already demonstrated that Schoenhard's claim was false. Grasp that.
Senator Scott Brown: But they're not. But they're not.
William Schoenhard: They should be.
Senator Scott Brown: But they're not. But they're not!
William Schoenhard: We have an obligation to be sure that they are.
Senator Scott Brown: But they're not!
Then Schoenhard wanted to argue that the VA can provide the best care.
Brown responded, "Sir, with all due respect, that's not happening. That's why we're here. It's clearly not working."
If you didn't grasp how furious Brown was with Schoenhard, what happened next made it very clear. "Thanks for that insight," Brown said -- not meaning it. "I also want to --"
He stopped speaking, he took his glasses off. He killed his mike and spoke to members of the Committee. Turning his mike back on, he declared, "I'll stay all day, Madam Chairman."
His second round of questioning will be covered by Wally at Rebecca's site so go over there to find out what happened. (Hint: Wally likes to grab the issues having to do with money.)
Lastly, Trina passed on that there were guesses that I'd stopped filling in because it's an election year and I (a Democrat) didn't want to write about Brown (a Republican).
"Ava spills Scott Brown's dirty secret" last June should have made it clear that I didn't care about that.
But for those who missed it, nope. Not an issue.
Nor was I mad at Trina as some were insisting.
As I explained last week at Third ("Ava's Confession"), I had other reasons. Trina and Mike had both repeatedly noted that I had "family issues." I'm a new mother. Blogging during the pregnancy wasn't a problem. Blogging since the birth requires more of a readjustment. So that's what's been going on. I really didn't have time tonight but this was an important hearing and I wanted to be sure Trina's site had it.
And now here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"