Concerned Veterans, Unconcerned Big Money, and the 2016 Nevada Senate Race

Hurricane There’s a warning flag up for Democrats in the 2016 elections – where are the Big Money Republicans putting their money?

“Among those on the sidelines: Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul who hosted the Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring meeting at his Venetian hotel this weekend. His apparent ambivalence about 2016 was shared by many RJC members here. With grave doubts about the viability of the few remaining Republican contenders, many of these Republican donors have decided to sit out the rest of the primary entirely. And while some are reluctantly getting behind a remaining candidate, others are shifting their attention to congressional contests.” [Politico]

Notice that last phrase: “…others are shifting their attention to congressional contests. Nevada voters have already been treated to at least one major advertising belch from the Koch Brothers – the saccharine introductory ad for Republican Joe Heck (Nevada Senate race).  There it was on the TV screen, all $700,000 worth of it:

“The ad is paid for by Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative-leaning organization that advocates for reforms for veterans across the country and is part of the network of organizations affiliated with conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.” [LVSun

First, I’m always a bit “concerned” when I see “concerned” in the title of any organization, like Phyllis Schlafly’s “Concerned women…” and secondly, it doesn’t take more than a couple of clicks to find out that Concerned Veterans for America is a 501(c)4 outfit funded by “Vets for Economic Freedom,” which in turn is funded by the Koch Brothers. [SourceW]  So, the Koch brothers have already decided that the Nevada Senate race is more interesting than the candidacy of either Donald Trump, or Seven Mountain Dominionist Ted Cruz, at least as the early stages of the Nevada senate race are concerned.

Another cause for “concern” is that the advertising so far from the Koch boys in Nevada aligns nicely with the radical libertarian agenda of the Kochs.   Heck is pleased to take credit for backing H.R. 3230, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014, which passed the House with bi-partisan support. However, he’s also supported by those who believe, “The VA is a glaring example of what happens when government bureaucrats create unnecessary obstacles to accessing quality health care.”  This moves us from the H.R. 3230 territory and into the realm of H.R. 1994, the VA Accountability Act of 2015, in which the Republicans would have us fire our way into excellence.  Witness section two:

Section 2: The VA may also remove an individual from the civil service or demote the individual through a reduction in grade or annual pay rate.

A demoted individual: (1) shall be paid at the demoted rate as of the date of demotion, (2) may not be placed on administrative leave or any other category of paid leave while an appeal is ongoing, and (3) may only receive pay and other benefits if the individual reports for duty.

The VA shall notify Congress of, and the reason for, any removal or demotion.

An employee shall have the right to an appeal before the Merit Systems Protection Board within seven days of removal or demotion. If an administrative judge does not make a final decision within 45 days the original decision becomes final. The Board or an administrative judge may not stay any removal or demotion.

Between the date on which an individual appeals a removal from the civil service and the date on which the administrative judge issues a final decision on the appeal, the individual may not receive any pay, awards, bonuses, incentives, allowances, differentials, student loan repayments, special payments, or benefits.

It isn’t quite accurate to say that this latest Republican version is a fire at will piece, but notice that the MSPB must make a decision in favor of the employee within 45 days – or the dismissal or demotion stands and cannot be taken to court.  There are a couple of things wrong with this picture.

First, the dismissal or demotion of every other member of the Federal civil service is subject to an appeal to the appropriate U.S. Court of Appeals, or to a U.S. District Court in cases of unlawful discrimination. [mspb]  H.R. 1994 obviously obliterates this.  Given underlying lack of due process in H.R. 1994 it’s intent has less to do with “accountability” and more to do with a frontal assault on the Civil Service rules of the Federal government.

Secondly, it’s a set up.  If one wants to argue that the Federal government is incapable of handling “business,” then one of the easiest ways to make that allegation stick is to (1) underfund the agency, (2) add more work to the agency’s brief, and (3) complain loudly when the agency can’t keep up.  Then, (4) propose privatization or “reforms” which please the economic elite.   H.R. 1994 meets all these tests when it comes to the appeals process for civil employees.

The MSPB is already underfunded, and if trends continue it will have about the same resources for FY 2016 as it had back in FY 2013.  This, when furlough appeals caused by the sequestration led to an increase of 525% in the number of appeals filed. [mspb pdf]

The MSPB has a case load of about 5,000 to which we add another 32,000 furlough cases on appeal – and is expected to decrease the backlog with fewer resources than it had before sequestration. [FedRad]  Under the current statutes the MSPB has 120 days, and one administrator summed up the practical problems:

“…however, there will be some issues. Under current federal statute, MSPB has 120 days to adjudicate a case, meaning the agency will have to issue VA rulings 83 percent faster than it currently does. The discovery period alone — when agency officials and employees gather and share evidence with each other — typically takes 25 to 45 days. In the new, VA-specific system, it will last just 10 days, Grundmann said.” [govexec]

When the Merit System Protection Board arrived in the wake of the 1883 Pendleton Act, moving civil service from the Spoils System to a more professional basis, the intent was to prevent arbitrary and capricious firings made for political convenience and profit.   The current Republican formula for the Veterans Administration employees undercuts this intention.  Underfund, overload, and then cry “reform,” simply insures that no employee will get his or her day in court.  That, in itself, is a denial of due process.  What could be more to the liking of the Koch Brothers and their associates than denying due process to Federal employees.

And, what could be more “Kochian” than to advertise one’s support for veterans while using the Veterans Administration as the whipping boy for mismanagement (however much it may be deserving in some cases) and as the vehicle by which dismantling the civil service may be accomplished?

Representative Heck seems pleased to accept the assistance of the Koch Brothers and their operatives and dark money groups.  Is he equally pleased to be the candidate for the advancement of their privatization agendas?

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