Rep. Mike Coffman (R).
As the Denver Post’s Anthony Cotton reports, a rally outside the construction site for the troubled VA Medical Center project on the Anschutz health care campus in Aurora yesterday was well attended by local veterans with a single, simple message: “Finish the damn thing.”
More than 150 people turned out for the rally, held across the street from the embattled project.
Congress has debated whether to complete the hospital since its price tag leapt to $1.73 billion, nearly triple the original budget.
Construction is continuing this month in Aurora with a reduced workforce and a short-term infusion of federal cash that is expected to run out in about two weeks.
If Congress doesn’t provide more money, it’s possible the project will be shut down…
Rep. Mike Coffman, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, attended yesterday’s rally outside the Aurora VA hospital site. As our readers know, Coffman has recently become a leading critic of the VA, expressing “shock” at the large cost overruns the project has incurred–despite the fact that he knew the project was headed wildly over budget over two years ago. During the recent fight in the U.S. House over preventing the project from shutting down, Coffman half-heartedly criticized his own Republican leadership for their unwillingness to appropriate the funds needed to finish construction.
So yesterday, Coffman had a much stronger message for the vets he was using as a backdrop, right? The AP’s Dan Elliot says not so much:
Congress will insist on significant changes in the Veterans Affairs Department before approving money to finish a vastly over-budget medical center outside Denver, [Pols emphasis] Rep. Mike Coffman said Sunday.
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D).
Contrast Coffman’s equivocal answer against the other member of Congress at yesterday’s protest, Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter, as quoted in Cotton’s story:
Perlmutter told the crowd that he’s also been frustrated with the lack of progress on the project, which will replace a hospital for veterans built in Denver after World War II.
“Nothing ever happened until we brought these out here ourselves,” he said, holding up a shovel.
“This country has enough money to finish this … and when it’s done it won’t be ‘a damn thing,’ but a fabulous medical research center that will serve the 1 million veterans in this region.” [Pols emphasis]
Now folks, which Congressman do you think was closer to what the veterans attending yesterday’s “finish the damn thing” rally wanted? The Congressman who says finish the hospital, or the Congressman who warns that Congress, fully controlled by his own party, is going to demand concessions before letting the VA finish the hospital? The answer is obvious: enough so that we’re surprised Coffman wasn’t booed off the stage.
Bottom line: everyone knows there is plenty of blame to go around for the huge cost overruns this project has suffered, and that the VA is a cabinet-level agency of the Obama administration. But that does not relieve Coffman of his share of responsibility, especially since he has been chair of the congressional committee responsible for overseeing the project for years. If the priority here is really to serve our nation’s veterans, of course the immediate objective is to complete the hospital–and not reduce the quality of care at the new facility as a penalty. If you want “changes” at the VA in response to the failures here, fine, but don’t further delay or jeopardize this necessary project to get them.
The longer this goes on, and the more his fellow Republicans become the primary antagonists against completing the project, Coffman’s position between these opposing factions becomes more and more untenable.
And that is how the strength Coffman enjoys grandstanding today could become a liability before it’s over.