VA Whistleblower Report Shows Lack of Oversight

Exasperated Mike Coffman

Exasperated Mike Coffman

The Denver Post has more details today about a Veterans Administration whistleblower and an apparent lack of oversight with the VA:

A former high-ranking federal Veterans Affairs official responsible for overseeing the troubled Aurora medical center complex figures prominently in a whistleblower’s claims that the agency misspent at least $5 billion yearly through illegal contracts and other purchases.

Whistleblower Jan Frye, VA’s deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, alleged in a 35-page letter to the VA secretary that a pattern of cover-up and indifference permeates all levels of the agency.

Frye accused Glenn Haggstrom, the former principle executive director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction, and others with intentionally trying to hide transactions in which the VA wrongly bought pharmaceuticals, medical devices and other goods and services without contracts that are required by federal law.

What about Congress? The Post heard from Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the Chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

“Incredibly, VA leaders either didn’t know or just didn’t care about the damage Haggstrom was doing,” Miller said in a statement to The Post. “In fact, they rewarded him for his reign of incompetence with tens of thousands in bonuses year after year after year.”

Hmmm…it seems like there should be a group of people…heck, a subcommittee even, who could provide a layer of oversight and protection for this sort of thing…

It also seems like this would be a good place in an article to insert the perspective of a Colorado resident with knowledge of the subject…

Alright, as you probably know, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) is not only a member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, but is also the CHAIRMAN OF THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND INVESTIGATONS. Oddly enough, Coffman just happens to represent the district which contains the $1.73+ billion Aurora VA Hospital boondoggle. It is a minor miracle that Coffman has largely managed to avoid any tough follow-up questions on a VA Hospital project mess occurring in his own backyard.

The tone and substance of this latest whistleblower report may have changed that, and from what we’re hearing of national media requests surrounding this story, Coffman may be getting a bit uncomfortable.

A whistleblower gets people to look up the ladder, wherein people start checking for names of the supervisor’s supervisors. It doesn’t take but a few steps up that ladder before you realize that the VA Hospital Project is in the home district of the Congressman who is the chair of Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee. That makes Coffman more than just interesting — it makes him a great headline: Aurora Hospital Boondoggle is in Oversight Chair’s Home District!

Unfortunately for Coffman, that’s when the questions get sour. How is it that the Oversight Chairman let this happen in his own backyard?

D’oh!

Investigation Underway Into Alleged Student Bullying By Jefferson County School Board, Staff

We wrote two weeks ago about an ugly and perhaps legally actionable incident that occurred at the May meeting of the conservative-controlled Jefferson County Board of Education. A complaint from Jeffco parent Wendy McCord the following day asked for an investigation of the displaying of a Jeffco student’s name on the overhead projector at this public board meeting, and board President Ken Witt accusing the 17-year-old student in question of “favoriting racial epithets at district leaders”–an apparent reference to an anonymous Tweet that is it turns out isn’t “racist” at all. From McCord’s complaint:

All administrators, teachers, and classified staff who witness student bullying in any such circumstance shall immediately take appropriate action to stop the bullying, as prescribed by the district and building principal, and shall promptly report the bullying to the principal or principal’s designee for appropriate action. (Policy JBC)

That it is the Board members who continue to endanger our students and staff is of no relevance. You are OBLIGATED to act to ensure the safe learning environment required by CRS 22-32.109.1(1.5). The Colorado legislature enacted this statute because of their commitment to “a learning environment that is safe, conducive to the learning process, and free from unnecessary disruption.” I am quite certain that the legislators never truly considered that it would be the Board Members themselves from whom students needed to be kept safe. But that doesn’t change the spirit and letter of the law. Nor does it change your obligation to protect our students.

I demand that a formal investigation be undertaken in connection with Witt’s behavior and comments, and that prompt and equitable remedial action be taken to deter future bullying and harassment and to remedy the effects on the victim(s) of Witt’s bullying behavior. Such actions should include “[h]olding training and inservices to assist [the board] in being alert to student bullying, taking appropriate action when bullying occurs, and helping to engender an atmosphere where bullying is not tolerated at school or school-related activities.”

Here’s the bottom line: social media has become a central communications hub for opposition to the conservative Jeffco board majority, and on several occasions, social media organizing and communication has resulted in extremely embarrassing situations for the school board–from the #JeffcoSchoolBoardHistory hashtag that went viral globally after Julie Williams’ disastrous AP History “review” proposal to Williams more recent linking to a hate group’s protest of the LGBT Day of Silence endorsed by the district. In response to these incidents, the team of paid communications consultants hired by Jeffco Communications Office Lisa Pinto has vigorously responded with a proxy campaign through local conservative blogs and social media–like the recent “Mean Girls” website from the right-wing Independence Institute, seeking to turn the anger on social media at the Jeffco school board into a sympathy ploy.

It appears that in the interest of “defending” the board majority from such criticism, Pinto and even elected members of the school board went on the hunt to identify persons to blame, discovering this minor student who had “favorited”–not even “Retweeted,” mind you, just “favorited”–a few Tweets critical of Pinto and the board majority. Emails forwarded to us from a recent Colorado Open Records Act request appear to be a “smoking gun,” setting up the incident that transpired later that evening between board chairman Ken Witt and the minor student in question:

pintosmokinggun

In the end, it doesn’t matter if this minor student “favorited” a Tweet. It wouldn’t matter if he or she was the original author of the Tweet that offended the board majority. That minor student is still entitled to protection from intimidation and bullying–and that includes bullying by a board member during a public board meeting.

Elected school board members have no business intimidating children. Period.

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Get More Smarter on Friday (May 22)

MoreSmarterLogounderwaterA sopping wet Memorial Day Weekend to you! It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Sen. Cory Gardner’s “pay twice” proposal for birth control women can currently receive copay-free under Obamacare is going over like a lead Zeppelin. The Denver Post’s Lynn Bartels has an updated story with more reaction from pro-choice advocates–quoting Karen Middleton of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado:

As we saw throughout his career and campaign — when he denied a ‘personhood’ bill he cosponsored even existed — Cory Gardner can’t be trusted when it comes to Colorado women and their health care.

With this legislation, he’s trying to limit women’s access to contraception by undermining the Affordable Care Act and double-billing them, first for insurance then for full retail cost of their birth control. This adds up to hundreds, even thousands, of dollars many women don’t have in their budget — and if birth control isn’t affordable, it isn’t accessible.

And Dr. Mark S. DeFrancesco, president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

The Affordable Care Act removed many barriers to preventive care that keeps women healthy. By making contraceptives available to women without a co-pay, it has truly increased access to contraception, thereby decreasing unintended pregnancies, and allowing women to better plan their futures. Unfortunately, instead of improving access, this bill would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive.

Ouch. So much for that, Sen. Promise Keeper.

► The GOP-controlled House passed a Band-Aid to forestall negative press over the Aurora VA hospital disaster for a couple of weeks. Rep. Mike Coffman, who has chaired the Oversight Subcommittee supervising this project for years, hopes to use that time to thread the precarious needle between solving the problem and being part of it.

► Republicans are itching for Hillary Clinton to testify about the Benghazi attacks–and so are Democrats, confident that she’ll make mincemeat out of Republicans obsessed with a story that has already been beat to death without uncovering anything scandalous whatsoever.

Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Woods sees “not a lot of difference” between political parties, raising specter of a primary

(You read it here first – Promoted by Colorado Pols)

Sen. Laura Waters-Woods.

Sen. Laura Waters-Woods.

You need only to stick your toe into Colorado’s talk-radio world to know that state Sen. Laura Woods is a superstar on the Tea-Party airwaves, regularly receiving love from KLZ 560AM’s Ken Clark, KNUS 710 AM’s Peter Boyles, and others.

The last thing these guys want is to lose Woods in a primary next year, funded by deep-pocket Republicans. So you’d think they’d want to rally their listeners to stop this before hit happens. And Woods, who previously called herself Laura Waters on the radio, seems to be hinting that it will, judging from her continued criticism of establishment Republicans.

For example, in a May 14 interview with Clark, Woods said there’s “not a lot of difference” between mainstream Democrats and mainstream Republicans–raising the question of whether Woods thinks Colorado Republicans will field a primary candidate against her. But Clark didn’t ask the question.

Woods (at 4:15 below): “I think that for the establishment Republicans, and there is no doubt in my mind that Cory Gardner is one of them, and Democrats, there’s not a lot of difference. Where we see a difference is between conservatives and that group of people.”

Earlier in the interview, at two minutes, she referred to “squishy Republican committees,” further showing her displeasure with the GOP in Colorado.

I’m not saying this is unexpected, given Woods’ ride to power on the back of Tea-Party supporters, but I’m surprised the radio crowd doesn’t talk openly about the obvious possibility of a primary and how to prepare for it.

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Cory Gardner Delivers Turd (As Promised!)

Suppose someone promised you that in June 2016, they would come to your house and kick you in the shins.

Now suppose it is June 2016, and this same person has just kicked you in the shins. Would you be upset over your newly-bruised legs, or would you congratulate that person for doing what they said they were going to do one year earlier? We like it when people keep promises, in part because it helps to validate our opinion of that person, but the contents of the promise are still important. Should we still applaud someone for keeping a shitty promise?

Enter Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma), who introduced legislation today that he first outlined during the 2014 Senate race. As Lynn Bartels of the Denver Post explains:

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner today made good on his promise to push for over-the-counter contraceptives, introducing legislation to encourage drug manufacturers of “routine-use contraceptives” to file an application with the FDA to sell their products over the counter.

The Yuma Republican first brought up the idea last year in an opinion piece published in The Denver Post. At the time, the congressman was trying to unseat U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat…

…Planned Parenthood Votes claimed at the time that Gardner’s over-the-counter proposal actually took away coverage for birth control. When Democrats questioned Gardner on his positions about women and reproductive rights, he would point to his op-ed and say he didn’t want to place restrictions on contraceptives but expand access to them. But critics noted he still sponsored the federal Life Begins at Conception Act, which would ban common forms of birth control and abortion.

Planned Parenthood was not impressed with Gardner’s idea in 2014, and they’re still not happy about it. In a press release, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, had this to say:

“This bill is a sham and an insult to women. It would give women fewer birth control options and force women to pay twice for their birth control.”

Opposition to Gardner’s bill from the left has always been about the specific proposal, and not about agreement or disagreement with increasing access to birth control. Gardner’s bill would actually end up making contraception less available and affordable for women by making it too expensive: In order to make more options available over-the-counter, the bill first removes the requirement for insurance to cover birth control. Under Gardner’s bill, you might not need a prescription for certain contraceptives — you just won’t be able to afford them. Problem, not solved.

But hey, he did what he said he would do! 

Hooray, or something.

Hickenlooper Makes Jeffco Schools Super Look Pretty Stupid

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The Colorado Springs Gazette’s Megan Schrader follows up on the story of the conservative-controlled Jefferson County school district’s snubbing of Gov. John Hickenlooper this week, denying his office’s request for a bill signing ceremony at a Jeffco public school.

Hick’s sense of humor wins the day once again:

Gov. John Hickenlooper fired back at a perceived snub from Jefferson County Schools on Wednesday after two high schools refused to let him hold a bill-signing ceremony on school property.

“The last time I was at Lakewood High School, Katy Perry was there and somehow she wasn’t a risk,” [Pols emphasis] Hickenlooper told a crowd gathered for the bill signing at a historic one-room schoolhouse owned by the city of Lakewood. “I fear, I’m not sure, but I fear that it’s a reflection that education has become more polarized and more partisan.”

Gratuitous Katy Perry photo.

Gratuitous Katy Perry photo.

The Colorado Statesman’s Vic Vela has more:

The Democratic governor recently sought permission from Jeffco schools to hold an education bill signing at Lakewood High School. Instead, his request was denied by conservative district Superintendent Dan McMinimee, who cited security and other logistical concerns.

Instead, Hickenlooper held a May 20 event to sign into law key changes to student testing policy from inside an old school house at a museum site in Lakewood. From there, Hickenlooper said he was “disappointed” with McMinimee’s decision.

“I think it introduces at least the impression of partisanship,” Hickenlooper told reporters after the bill signing, which was held on the grounds of the Lakewood Heritage Center…

Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy said the school also hosted a 2012 event with Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who at the time was a vice presidential candidate. Murphy said the city and the school district was only given a couple of days notice, but that all the necessary security was put in place. [Pols emphasis]

There’s little question about it, the negative press the already embattled Jeffco school district received for rejecting Hickenlooper’s bill signing was not worth whatever political points they may have scored with fellow conservatives. The district’s spokesperson Lisa “Big Résumé” Pinto insists that politics weren’t a factor at all, but that doesn’t square with the public’s recent recollection of political campaign events in 2012 and 2014 at various Jeffco schools–like the 2012 event for Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan at the same school. If those were okay, voters will reasonably ask, why couldn’t Hickenlooper sign a bill directly pertaining to education?

It’s doesn’t matter what excuses the district’s right-wing staffers offer up, the optics of this situation are awful. The incident underscores what a lot of Jefferson County voters already believe–that this school district has been taken over by divisive partisan political operators, who are now dispensing their own political paybacks. Even conservatives in Jefferson County should be able to see the problem with a school district alienating high-ranking elected officials with petty games, not to mention the chilling effect this could have on ordinary citizens who don’t share the board’s political agenda.

Is it their worst offense? Hardly. But it’s pretty revealing.

Congress Approves Memorial Day VA Hospital Band-Aid, Wound Still Festering

Rep. Mike Coffman.

Rep. Mike Coffman.

9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman reporting now on a last-minute deal to keep construction going at the troubled VA medical center project on the Anschutz medical campus in Aurora…for now, anyway:

On the same day Congress is preparing to leave for a Memorial Day break, House Republicans introduced a last-minute temporary patch that would prevent another work stoppage at Colorado’s new VA hospital project.

The bill introduced mid-day by VA committee chair Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Florida) would increase the current $800 million cap on the project to $900 million, which would buy another few weeks of construction work on the site until congress can come back and consider options for a longer-term fix…

Kiewit-Turner…announced in a memo Wednesday that a shutdown on Colorado’s mismanaged VA hospital project would add between $125-200 million to the overall cost of the project and delay opening until as late as 2018.

Rep. Mike Coffman and fellow Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter were reportedly prime movers for this bill, speaking on the House floor this morning in favor of speedy passage to allow construction on the project to keep going through and beyond Memorial Day weekend. While that would prevent highly unfavorable news headlines during the holiday when we honor our fallen veterans, as the AP’s Nick Riccardi alludes to in a Tweet today, it’s not really what you’d call a solution to the larger problem:

Aurora VA medical center site. (credit: VA)

Aurora VA medical center site. (credit: VA)

The fact is, this short-term deal doesn’t help that much, because there will still be tremendous uncertainty for the contractors doing the work. Construction firms need the lead time that comes with planning certainty to properly allocate limited work crews on construction projects–at this project and others elsewhere. One of the reasons this project has gone so woefully over budget is that the problems with budgets and timetables have made it harder to find subcontractors to perform so many of the tasks required. Denver’s hot construction market means that if subcontractors don’t want to deal with the headaches and political uncertainty on this project, they don’t have to.

Coffman can claim he persuaded his own Republican House leadership to allow this short-term deal to keep construction going, but we’re likely to be right back in the same position just a couple of weeks from now, so this is more of a punt than anything. Can Coffman keep the project going with the threat of a politically unsightly Memorial Day shutdown removed? What pound of flesh will Coffman’s Republican leadership demand next time to keep this hospital alive? How many times can Coffman try to be the savior before the press starts asking why the chairman of the VA Oversight Committee has done so little to solve this problem despite knowing about it for years?

Bottom line: especially after the actions of Coffman’s Republican leadership this week risking another shutdown of the project, the line between being a hero and being part of the problem here is precarious at best. This deeply troubled but necessary new hospital for our vets isn’t out of the woods yet–and neither is Mike Coffman.

Get More Smarter on Thursday (May 21)

MoreSmarter-RainApparently today is Red Nose Day; the first person who can find two friends who know what this means wins a prize. It’s time to Get More Smarter with Colorado Pols. If you think we missed something important, please include the link in the comments below (here’s a good example).

 

TOP OF MIND TODAY…

► Congress is unlikely to figure out a plan to continue funding construction at the VA Hospital project in Aurora, so it looks like work will shut down on the site as soon as next week. Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) — the Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee — took time out from blaming other people to have breakfast this morning with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to discuss a potential Coffman campaign for U.S. Senate in 2016. Hey, priorities, right?

► If funding for the Aurora VA Hospital project is halted, that doesn’t mean the government is still saving money. As Mark Matthews reports for the Denver Post:

According to one congressional estimate, it would cost $20 million to shutter the site and $2 million a month to keep it safe from the elements — additional expenses that would increase the price tag of a project that has been called the biggest construction failure in VA history.

That’s not all. There are concerns among Colorado legislators that another work stoppage would drive away subcontractors, who already had to live through one shutdown in December. That could further increase the price…

…”I have presented a plan,” [VA Secretary Robert] McDonald wrote. “Congress has not proposed a counter-plan. I am open to reviewing any proposal that would better serve the veterans of Colorado and the American taxpayers.

“If congressional leaders choose not to support VA’s proposals or choose not to offer feasible solutions of their own, then they will be punishing Colorado veterans today for past VA errors.”

Maybe Coffman was proposing his plan to Mitch McConnell at breakfast this morning.

 Get even more smarter after the jump…

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Irony Watch: Stapleton Trashes Denver Post Article After Declining Interview

(Nobody shoots their own foot quite like Walker Stapleton — promoted by Colorado Pols)

If you’re a journalist, this is the kind of  irony that makes you want to jump into the raging Platte River: State Treasurer Walker Stapleton is trashing a Denver Post article as “completely misleading” even though Stapleton refused an interview request from the reporter who wrote the article that Stapleton is so upset about.

Over the weekend, The Denver Post’s John Frank reported that Stapleton caved to pressure from conservatives and withdrew his support from legislation aimed at making money for PERA, the state’s public pension system.

Frank sought Stapleton’s comments for his article, but alas, as Frank reported:

John Frank: “Michael Fortney, a spokesman for Stapleton, declined to make him available for an interview and blamed the media for spreading falsehoods about the legislation.”

So John Frank dutifully did the best he could anyway to piece together Stapleton’s best response to the substantive issues at play. But this wasn’t good enough for Stapleton, who trashed Frank’s reporting on KLZ 560-AM’s nooner show yesterday:

 Stapleton (@5:40 below): “John Frank’s reporting, which was lacking to be diplomatic, was completely misleading, never once illuminated my track record of suing the pension system, lowering the [assumed] rate of return, leading the defeat of Amendment 66, the largest tax increase in Colorado history, because the money was going to back fill obligations in the pension system. I mean, the notion that somehow I’ve become sideways, because I’m in league with the pension system–the facts don’t quite bear that out.”

That’s not what the article said at all, but Stapleton went further, telling KLZ host Ken Clark that he thinks The Post has a bias against “statewide elected Republicans,” and so he’s “really isn’t surprised” that The Post’s coverage “has been not accurate.”

Stapleton (@1:30 below): “The Denver Post, their coverage of this, has been not accurate and misrepresentative of my position from the beginning, which really isn’t surprising as a statewide elected Republican.”

You can add another layer of irony to this accusation, because one of the state’s most conservative/libertarian journalists, Vincent Carroll, wrote that Stapleton “migrated into incoherence” when Stapleton previously attacked The Post’s coverage of the PERA legislation…

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Mitch McConnell Wooing Mike Coffman at Breakfast Tomorrow

Sen. Mitch McConnell, table for two, please.

Table for two, please.

As Roll Call reports, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Aurora) will have breakfast tomorrow with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who hopes to pursuade Coffman to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet in 2016. Judging from the headline of the Roll Call story (“What if Mike Coffman Says No“), somebody may have more than egg on their face tomorrow afternoon:

Republicans are trying to recruit Rep. Mike Coffman to challenge Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado. If he stays put in the House, that gives the GOP a crop of candidates who could have a harder time in what will be one of Republicans’ few offensive opportunities in 2016.

Coffman will have breakfast Thursday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who will surely make the case to convince the four-term lawmaker to try and join him across the rotunda. Asked about recruitment efforts, Coffman quipped, “Pressure, pressure, pressure.”

Coffman is taking his time. He told CQ Roll Call a decision would come “probably within the next month.”

“Still thinking. Never say never. But I haven’t ruled it out,” he said.

Roll Call says that there is a “large field of Colorado Republicans” who are waiting on Coffman’s decision, though the story just mentions a bunch of obvious names that we already know to be less of a list than a scribble on a napkin.

We’ve said for a long time in this space that we do NOT think Coffman will run for the U.S. Senate. Coffman’s troubles with the VA Hospital in Aurora certainly won’t help.

“Loan Shark Payback”–How A Bipartisan Dirty Deed Was Done

UPDATE: FOX 31 reports on the controversy over House Bill 15-1390:

—–

Registered lobbyist Megan Dubray.

Registered lobbyist Megan Dubray.

A big question remaining from the end of this year’s legislative session is the status of a bill passed at warp speed just as the session came to an end earlier this month. House Bill 15-1390, legislation that would allow subprime personal lenders to dramatically increase interest rates on “supervised” loans typically sought by borrowers with impacted credit histories, passed the Democratic-controlled Colorado House nearly unanimously and with almost no debate. In the Senate, most Democrats voted against the legislation after consumer advocacy groups like the Bell Policy Center managed to sound the alarm.

Yesterday, those groups joined with Senators Jessie Ulibarri and Lucia Guzman at a presser, requesting a veto of the bill by Gov. John Hickenlooper. As we’ve noted previously, Hickenlooper’s office was apparently not party to the deal that greased this bill through the legislature just before adjournment, and both sides are presently lobbying his office for and against signing the bill into law.

As these remaining steps in the process play out, many observers, including readers of this blog, have rightly asked the question–just how did this plainly anti-consumer legislation make it out of the Democratic-controlled Colorado House? Why did so many Democratic representatives, including some pretty lefty liberal types, vote for a bill directly counter to the interests of working families they are charged with defending? Especially a last-minute bill so obviously being slipped in under the wire?

The answer to this question may be as simple of the identity of the lobbyist whose job it was to pass the bill. Megan Dubray is the registered lobbyist for Springleaf Financial, one of the two major lending companies who would benefit most from House Bill 1390’s dramatic hike in subprime personal loan interest rates. If Dubray’s name rings a bell to you, it’s because she used to be the Deputy Communications Director for former Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino.

In short, Dubray is a friendly face to Democrats in the Colorado House majority, and we have to assume that relationship played a role in both the late introduction of House Bill 1390–which required the consent of House leadership–and its quick passage through the House with most Democrats in support. The difference between House Democrats’ overwhelming support for House Bill 1390 and the opposition encountered from most Senate Democrats can be at least partly accounted for by Dubray’s role in lobbying for the bill.

Assuming this version of events is accurate, does it excuse Democrats in the House? Absolutely not–no matter how outwardly persuasive a case was being made to pass this bill, or who was doing the lobbying, allowing such enormous rate hikes on loans made to people who are already in credit trouble is exploitative and morally questionable on its face. Especially considering the huge profits subprime lenders are raking in as the economy recovers, the argument that this industry would simply pack up and leave the hundreds of millions of dollars they’re making here on the table if they don’t get these rate hikes is simply ridiculous. And there’s just no excuse for so many Democratic lawmakers not realizing that.

Bottom line: all the Democratic votes in the world for this bill do not make it right. A Democratic lobbyist pushing this bill does not make it right. Whatever happens to House Bill 1390, soul-searching lies ahead for everyone who contributed to this ugly situation.

We’ll continue to update as the story develops.

The Cost Of Coffman Comes Home To Roost

UPDATE: AP’s Nick Riccardi:

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Rep. Mike Coffman: mad as hell...at everyone?

Rep. Mike Coffman: mad as hell…at everyone?

As the Denver Post’s Mark Matthews reports, the ongoing controversy over the wildly over-budget new VA medical center under construction at the Anschutz campus in Aurora has taken a troubling turn–and Congressional Republicans have nobody left to blame:

With funding about to run out, Congress and the administration failed again Tuesday to reach a deal on how to finish construction of a Veterans Affairs hospital in Aurora that has seen its price tag soar to $1.73 billion.

The latest setback follows an offer by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to trim the hospital campus by two buildings, including a clinic for post-traumatic stress disorder.

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, said House Speaker John Boehner had rejected the proposal and that Boehner wanted the cost reduced further; the VA has estimated it needs an additional $830 million to complete the facility. [Pols emphasis]

“I’ve been shuttling back and forth between (VA) Secretary (Robert) McDonald and the speaker’s office hoping that an agreement can be reached before the end of this week in order to avoid a complete shutdown at the hospital construction site,” Coffman said.

That’s right–Rep. Mike Coffman, who has chaired the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee for more than two years (and served on the House VA Committee in general)–is scrambling to convince his own Republican leaders to approve the funds needed to avert yet another halt to construction. As a report from ProgressNow Colorado made clear in April, Coffman has been well aware of this looming disaster for many years yet has failed to do much more than call for VA staffers to be fired…and panic is starting to take hold. From 9NEWS’ Brandon Rittiman:

“I’m disappointed in the VA for their mismanagement. I’m disappointed in the speaker, for in my view, not showing appropriate leadership so far,” Coffman told 9NEWS in an interview Tuesday. “I hope I can convince [Boehner] to understand that our veterans should not be the casualty.” [Pols emphasis]

Coffman, along with the other eight members of Colorado’s congressional delegation, are racing the clock, hoping to convince congressional leaders to authorize another $200 million toward to the spending cap on the Aurora hospital project.

John Boehner.

John Boehner.

But the latest word today from Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner is, well, screw ’em. Here’s Matthews in an updated story just posted moments ago:

A high-level, eleventh hour meeting meant to find a way to fund the troubled $1.73 billion VA hospital in Aurora ended in standstill Wednesday, raising the increasingly likely prospect that money for both a long-term and a short-term deal isn’t coming.

Punctuating that point was a combative floor speech delivered by House Speaker John Boehner that took aim at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the administration…

Matthews reports that if a deal to keep construction going isn’t reached, the cost of mothballing the project will itself be millions of dollars–not to mention the cost of getting subcontractors back on the job after a shutdown, workers who will be snatched up for other Denver-area construction projects as soon as they are idled. 

While no one is suggesting that Coffman is solely responsible for the huge cost overruns this project has incurred, there’s no ignoring the fact that Coffman “owns” as much of this problem as anybody. This is happening in Coffman’s own district; Coffman is the Chair of the Oversight and Investigations subcommittee; and Coffman has campaigned for years on his military background and “support” for veterans. If the VA Hospital in Aurora was completed on-budget and on-time, Coffman would be doing pushups at the ribbon cutting.

The bottom line now is that the hospital needs to be finished or, to put it in Shakespearean terms, “all are punished.” The Obama administration looks bad, the VA looks bad, the contractors look bad — and Coffman looks worse by the day as he looks for someone else to blame or be fired.

Coffman has a lot to lose if Boehner and the House GOP leadership decide to use this project as a stick to beat on the Obama administration, and it’s difficult to see how Republicans can do this without inflicting significant collateral damage on the four-term Representative from CD-6.

We suspect Coffman is pretty nervous right about now.