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So there it was, another U.S. Congressional committee hearing Tuesday. The topic was the growing backlog of disability compensation claims for veterans. And for the most part members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee stuck to the typical, friendly script, according to an account in The New York Times.
Then there was Bob Filner. Here’s what the Times said about his performance:
After a relatively tame opening statement in which the vice chairman, Representative Gus Bilirakis, a Republican of Florida, called on the V.A. “to break this cycle of unproductively and deliver the benefits that V.A. was created to provide,” Mr. Filner, voice dripping with sarcasm, announced: “Well, here we are again.”
Recalling his first backlog hearing some 20 years ago, Mr. Filner noted with rising irritation that the V.A. has hired, by his count, more than 10,000 new employees in recent years, but has seen the backlog more than double, to over 900,000 pending claims. Yet the Veterans Benefits Administration, the division that handles disability compensation, had done little more than “recycle programs,” he said.
“The definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over again and expect different results,” he said, sounding a theme he would return to several times during the nearly five-hour hearing.
The congressman, who is running for mayor of San Diego, as veteran-friendly a town as exists in America, was just getting started.
This kind of performance is par for Filner’s course. He can be aggressive, sarcastic, confrontational and bombastic. Filner has had notable unflattering run-ins, but he also dispenses with the typical niceties to fight for his constituents. We’ve been following how Filner’s personality affects his policymaking for some time and will continue to track the issue throughout the mayoral campaign.
In this case, there was policy under the bluster. Filner wants the VA to switch to a system that accepts many disability compensation claims on their face and then conducts audits to check for fraud. Filner likened the proposal to the process the Internal Revenue Service uses for tax returns.
Filner’s questioning, according to the Times, even managed to partially sway a Tea Party Republican to his side despite being polar political opposites.
If you want more Filner, check out the video of the hearing. It’s almost four hours long, so if you just want to catch his opening statement, it starts at about the seven-minute mark.
Also, Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call took a deep dive last year into Filner’s record on the veterans’ committee (subscription required) and found his style helped lead to funding boosts for the VA.
Liam Dillon is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?
Please contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.550.5663.
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