Begun, the Buck-Passing Has

Raise your hands if you are actually surprised by this:

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., repeatedly put the blame for the Veterans Affairs scandal on former President George W. Bush, while arguing that her party has worked hard for veterans in recent years.

Pelosi took a shot at Bush while saying that the scandal is a high priority for Obama. “He sees the ramifications of some seeds that were sown a long time ago, when you have two wars over a long period of time and many, many more, millions more veterans,” she told reporters during her Thursday press briefing. “And so, I know that he is upset about it.”

The Democratic leader never mentioned Bush by name, but she alluded to him early and often in the press briefing.

Five years into the Obama presidency, we are still at the point where everything bad that happens is George W. Bush’s fault (while, of course, everything good that happens can be attributed to the fact that Barack Obama is in the Oval Office). It makes one shake one’s head so vigorously in disbelief that one may be in danger of breaking various cervical vertebrae.

Of course, there are some people who have accepted the fact–controversial in Pelosian quarters, but a fact nonetheless–that by now, Barack Obama should claim responsibility for what happens on his watch. A word for Nancy Pelosi: When Dana Milbank of all people has a firmer grasp on the realities of the situation than you do, you know you are in trouble:

It doesn’t inspire great confidence that President Obama, on the day he finally decided to comment about excessive wait times for veterans’ medical appointments, showed up late to read his statement.

The White House briefing room is only about 100 feet from the Oval Office, but Obama arrived 13 minutes after the scheduled time for his remarks, the first since the day the scandal broke late last month with a report that 40 veterans had died in Phoenix while waiting to see doctors.

Over the weekend, the president’s chief of staff assured the public that Obama was “madder than hell” about what happened at the Department of Veterans Affairs, but in person Obama didn’t seem very angry. Like VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, Obama wasn’t entirely convinced something bad had happened.

“If these allegations prove to be true, it is dishonorable,” he said. “If there is misconduct, it will be punished.”

Obama spoke of only “the possibility that somebody was trying to manipulate the data” on appointment wait lists, and he suggested that “whatever is wrong” may be “just an episodic problem.”

But there are no “ifs” about it: Numerous inquiries and leaked memos over several years point to “gaming strategies” employed at VA facilities to make wait times for medical appointments seem shorter — and these clearly aren’t limited to those reported in Phoenix; AlbuquerqueFort Collins, Colo.; and elsewhere. Lawmakers in both parties have spoken of a systemic problem at the agency, and the American Legion, citing “poor oversight,” has called for Shinseki’s resignation — the first time it has made such a gesture in more than 70 years.

And more:

President Barack Obama wants to talk about flexing his administrative and executive power to do more. Instead, he got stuck talking about a clear administrative and executive failure that, at least so far, he hasn’t done much about.

And this one’s no contained, bureaucratic flub. The problems at the Veterans Affairs Department have engulfed an entire Cabinet department and may have left hundreds of thousands of veterans waiting for care, and as many as 40 of them dead.

The latest stumbles have been a fresh reminder of the story line the White House has been trying to recover from since the fall, when the Obamacare website flopped, the key poll numbers about the president’s competence collapsed so deeply that they’re still far from recovering, and Democrats went into an apocalyptic panic about the midterms.

I suppose that it is tempting to think that this is just another garden-variety political scandal. But it isn’t; lives were lost because the Department of Veterans Affairs was incompetent:

Donald Douglass had a small spot on his forehead when he went to the Seattle Veterans Affairs hospital in 2011.

A biopsy confirmed it was cancerous. But it was four months before the hospital scheduled an appointment for him to have it removed — and by then, it had spread, wrapping around a facial nerve and eventually getting into his blood.
The delay proved fatal, his lawyer said — and it mirrors concerns being raised about the VA system nationally.

“There was no reason for this procedure to be delayed,” said the attorney, Jessica Holman of Tacoma. “Had he had his surgery timely, he’d be alive today.”

And alas, Donald Douglass’s case is not an isolated one:

In February, a cardiovascular surgeon at the Miami VA hospital complained to one of his superiors that “patients had died” because a piece of equipment that might have saved their lives was left in a Broward warehouse, according to an email obtained by CBS4 News.

The February 27 email was sent by Dr. Tomer Karas to the VA’s chief of surgery Dr. Seth Spector. In the email, Karas complained about a device known as the TandemHeart – which keeps blood following during certain sensitive procedures.

“It is my understanding that the TandemHeart has never been used here because of a nursing administration issue,” Karas wrote. “I am not clear on what the issue is but I believe it has to do with concerns over competency and training.”

In his email to Spector, Karas went on to relay a conversation he had with a VA cardiologist, Dr. Carlos Alfonso.

“In discussions with Dr. Alfonso,” Karas wrote, “I understand that patients have died in our cath lab due to inability to offer a higher level of support … even while the TandemHeart was physically available.”

Karas then added: “I am told the TandemHeart currently resides in a warehouse in Broward.”

The Karas email does not state how many patients may have died or when those deaths occurred.

Are repeated exclamations of “it was all George W. Bush’s fault!” really supposed to explain away these outrages?