The just-expired 113th Congress had little to recommend it legislatively, but the iron jaws of partisan gridlock did ease enough for members to respond to a scandal over Veterans Administration facilities that were at the very least cavalier in scheduling deserving heroes for services.
And when Congress did move, it approved a bill that included two additional provisions for Louisiana, removing obstacles to expanding VA coverage for veterans in Lafayette and Lake Charles. That was a significant step forward brokered by the Louisiana delegation, including its senior member, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who held key committee roles involving the VA.
That was then. But now the VA appears to be backing out of its promises to Louisiana lawmakers. The opening of the Lafayette facility was recently pushed back to October 2016, nearly a year beyond the previously announced date.
That was announced apparently without even a courtesy notice to the House member who represents the cities, U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, who worked with Landrieu and other members of the state delegation to better serve veterans in his district.
“If the VA thinks they can treat south Louisiana veterans like this and get away with it, they’re wrong,” Boustany said.
He has a right to be furious. We agree with that sentiment and hope the stall has nothing to do with politics, Landrieu having been defeated in the fall elections.
Our delegation now includes U.S. Sen.-elect Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, who won Landrieu’s seat. Like our other members, he has been a staunch but secondary supporter of the VA expansions in Lake Charles and Lafayette, not in his district but of interest to the state’s veterans.
It is now incumbent on the new members of the 114th Congress to ride herd on these projects as a group.
Louisiana’s delegation in Congress is now smaller because of the state’s slow rate of population growth and is almost entirely Republican, with the exception of U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, of New Orleans.
If politics is at the root of the VA’s foot-dragging, Richmond can be a big help to Boustany. But whatever the issues raised by the VA, we hope that members of the new Congress set a precedent of working together in the 114th. Both the House and Senate have Republican majorities, but in terms of seniority Louisiana’s delegation is far from the powerhouse it was.
Louisiana’s needs, for veterans and for everybody else, are growing even as discretionary federal spending — separate from Medicare or other entitlement programs — is restricted because of concern about the federal debt. It will take a team effort by the delegation to serve the veterans in Lafayette and Lake Charles, and so many others besides.