January 15, 2008 – Galesburg, Illinois – Reflecting on his first year in office, U.S. Rep. Phil Hare expressed frustration about the country’s direction.
Though he has often been a critic of President Bush and his allies, Hare, D-Rock Island, did not shy away from criticizing some of his fellow Democrats who have failed to take advantage of their majority in the House and Senate to affect real change.
“We’ve gone no place on the war,” he said Monday during a meeting with The Register-Mail editorial board. “I thought, with the change in members of the House and Senate, and with the American people really tiring of it, we might be able to see it move. But the president is pretty locked in.”
Hare said he was one of 90 Congressmen to send Bush a letter recently stating they would not support continued funding for the war without a date for the United States to begin the process of withdrawing troops. It would take at least 18 months to bring the troops home, Hare said, adding that while the president did not need to have a fully formed plan, a time frame was necessary.
However, it appears as though the House will support continued funding for the war when Bush asks for it during the next legislative session, which begins this week.
“It’s a disappointment to me. I think that sends a very poor message,” Hare said.
While the surge has worked to reduce the violence, Hare said a “diplomatic surge” was also needed to negotiate a division of oil resources with the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds and make sure the Iraqi government and police force were ready to step up when U.S. forces leave. Even though that is not happening, Hare said America still must begin to bring the troops home.
“I do believe if the U.S. leaves there will be a spike in violence. But if we go by that logic, John McCain is right and we’ll be there 100 years, and I’m not prepared to do that,” Hare said, adding the war was bankrupting the nation.
In fact, he blamed the war in part for Congressman Ray LaHood’s decision to retire. He said LaHood and other moderate Republicans went to the White House to tell the president how people in their districts felt about the war, and the next day LaHood received an angry call from one of the president’s advisers.
“Last I heard, he wasn’t emperor of the United States,” Hare said.
Veterans deserve better
Hare’s frustration about Iraq extends to the way veterans are treated once they return home. On average, he said it takes the Veterans Affairs Department 177 days to process a disability claim after it has been filed. If the claim is denied, the appeals process could drag on for another 12 years and if the veteran dies several years into an appeal, his or her spouse has to start all over again.
Hare said the VA’s big response to these problems was to try to cut the wait time from 177 days to 142.
Hare also said there has been an increasing problem with disability claims being denied on the basis of pre-existing conditions not previously identified.
He told two stories about this problem. One was of a Marine who lost his hearing because of mortar fire. The government is fighting to get his disability claim back, with interest, because they said he had a personality disorder prior to being in the military.
A Chillicothe man is fighting to keep his re-enlistment bonus after being discharged because of the mental stresses of his job. He was charged with retrieving the body parts of soldiers killed by roadside bombs. He had been screened four times before taking the job and was deemed fit for duty. Hare told the man to have the bills sent to his office. Hare then forwards them to the VA office and tells them “exactly what they can do with it.”
“I’m more than angry about it,” he said. “To do that to people; talk about being un-American. That’s something that’s really unfair to people.”
Hare said people “have every right to be mad” at their leaders, including some of Hare’s fellow Democrats. While he said the House has done everything it can to get legislation moving, he said many bills stall in the Senate because of Senate rules requiring 60 votes to even bring a measure to a vote. He said Democrats, who do hold a majority in the body, would not change the filibuster rules because they served them well when they were in the minority.
“Our job as Democrats is to carry the House and Senate, but our job is not to make it so we only need a small majority to stop (legislation) because we don’t like it,” he said.
Hare said too many of his colleagues are more worried about getting re-elected than doing what they think is right.
“I don’t blame people for being disenchanted,” he said. “Sometimes we try to tell them what they think they want. They think that a lot of people don’t care about what they care about.”
Hare added he was frustrated that some Democrats want to wait to advance important legislation on things such as health care and education until after the election in order to make sure the legislation lines up with the next president’s policies.
“Voters are way ahead of us on these issues,” he said. “People don’t understand filibusters and cloture. They want to get up and go to a job. They want to have a safe place to go and come home to. They want to have health care and, at the end of the day, they’d like to have a decent pension and live their lives with dignity. That’s not asking for too much from this government.”