As President Barack Obama faced attacks over long waits for appointments at Veterans Administration health centers, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the House Democrats’ campaign arm — engaged in some finger-pointing.
Here is part of the June 2 press release about Ros-Lehtinen headlined “Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen has long record of voting against VA backlog fixes.”
“As House Republicans shamelessly try to score political points over the crisis in veterans care, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s votes tell the true story of her record: when she had a chance to fix this problem, she voted against the fixes.”
The release went on to quote DCCC spokesman Josh Schwerin saying, “It’s a shame that when Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen had a chance to do something to help shorten the wait time at the VA she voted no. Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen voted against a commonsense solution to this problem and our heroes deserve better.”
We put those votes under a microscope to see whether Ros-Lehtinen has a “long record of voting against VA backlog fixes.”
We should start by distinguishing between two related, but separate, issues relating to veterans. One concerns longstanding problems with handling benefits claims from veterans, including disability compensation, pensions, and compensation for surviving spouses or children of veterans who die as a result of their service. The other concerns long waits for service at VA hospitals.
On the first issue — benefits — the backlog refers to requests that go unaddressed by the government for at least 125 days. PolitiFact found that the backlog nearly doubled from roughly 36 percent in the summer 2010 to 65 percent in June 2012. In April 2014, the Obama administration released numbers suggesting the backlog was shrinking, but veterans groups said they had serious doubts about the numbers.
The second issue — the wait for care — stemmed from news reports that revealed secret waiting lists at VA hospitals, and that some veterans died while awaiting care. This is what ultimately led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki on May 30.
The DCCC essentially conflates the two issues in the quest to highlight any vote that portrays Ros-Lehtinen as voting against veterans’ interests.
We’ll also offer a general word of warning about how political groups tend to cherry-pick the records of their opponent.
It’s possible to dig up a vote made by virtually any member of Congress of either party and claim that the politician is for — or against — anything, including veterans benefits. So, just as the Democrats were able to find some votes in which Ros-Lehtinen voted against a service for veterans, spokespersons for Ros-Lehtinen and the National Congressional Campaign Committee were able to point to separate votes in which she voted for veterans’ services.
Many of the votes that the DCCC cited were procedural moves or one particular vote out of a series of votes. In most of the instances, the votes broke down overwhelmingly on party lines, with Ros-Lehtinen joining her Republican colleagues.
Democrats also cited multiple other votes including a few that related to housing for veterans but Republicans could point to other votes on bills that did provide housing assistance.
VETERAN’S GROUPS’ REPORT CARDS
We found two veterans’ organizations that issue voting “report cards” for members of Congress:
• American Veterans (Amvets) gave Ros-Lehtinen an A in 2013, based on eight pieces of legislation. (Ros-Lehtinen didn’t participate in a vote for one.)
• Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Action Fund gave Ros-Lehtinen a C in 2010. The report card looked at 14 votes, plus whether lawmakers cosponsored certain bills. The group gave her an A in 2008. (Overall, the group gave Congress lower marks in 2010 than 2008.)
Contacted by PoilitiFact, DCCC spokeswoman Emily Bittner said, “These Republicans’ votes speak for themselves. Taken in their totality, they show an unfortunate pattern of refusing to cross party lines and vote for commonsense fixes to the problems at the VA.”
However, we don’t think the votes chosen show the “totality” of Ros-Lehtinen’s record.
The DCCC said “Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen has long record of voting against VA backlog fixes.”
The DCCC points to some votes that went against funding certain veterans’ services or addressing the backlog. However, the DCCC ignores that Ros-Lehtinen took other votes in favor of increasing funding for veterans’ services — just not as much as Democratic proposals would have offered.
The bigger issue is that most of these votes came within elaborate games of tit-for-tat, in which each side offers proposals that they expect will fail, just to get lawmakers on the other side to take votes that look superficially bad. The reality of Ros-Lehtinen’s voting record is much more nuanced than the DCCC’s cherry-picked account would suggest. This, combined with the “A” ratings she’s earned from veterans’ advocacy groups, undercut the DCCC’s claim that she has a “long” voting record of voting against the interests of veterans. We rate the claim False.