ST. CLOUD, Minn. | To hear his camp tell it Thursday, President Obama has been in the dark on his administration’s controversial efforts to force veterans to use their private insurance for treatments and to clear the way for large bonuses to be paid to the executives of the failed insurance giant AIG.
Biden” href=”/themes/?Theme=Joseph+Biden” >Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was the latest to offer the president-didn’t-know defense, suggesting to a Minnesota audience that Mr. Obama was “unaware” of the veterans plan until the president floated it to veterans groups leaders this past Monday and stirred a major controversy.
Timothy Geithner” href=”/themes/?Theme=Timothy+Geithner” >Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner joined the bandwagon, saying it was he and not the president who deserved the blame for letting the bonuses to American International Group Inc.” href=”/themes/?Theme=American+International+Group+Inc.” >American International Group Inc. proceed.
“It’s my responsibility,” Mr. Geithner said, taking the blame just days after the White House” href=”/themes/?Theme=The+White+House” >White House leaked reports that it didn’t know about the bonuses until after they were issued.
The efforts to shield the president from the fallout of early administration missteps has opened a door for Republicans to cast doubts on the competence, credibility and discipline of the new White House.
“We have the president saying he takes full responsibility and then saying it’s not his fault,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.
Mr. Kyl and other top Senate Republicans tweaked the president for finding the time to fill out an NCAA basketball tournament bracket and appear on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” while anger was boiling over in Washington over revelations of the bonuses and while the nation’s credit markets remained in crisis.
“This administration seems to have disdain or very little time for the hard work of governing,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
In St. Cloud, Mr. Biden, responding to a veteran’s question, blamed budget bean counters for trying to save money with the care proposal that died Wednesday after an outcry from lawmakers from both parties and veterans groups.
“OMB decided - the Office of Management and Budget - they’re the guys who watch every dollar and figure out what we can spend and what taxes are coming in and what’s going out, etc., they decided that we could - quote save - 4 to 5 billion dollars in veterans health care costs in fact when a veteran came in with a war-related, excuse me, military-related injury or problem, that they would then have their private insurer be billed for that service,” Mr. Biden said.
“And that caused a real, a real ripple,” Mr. Biden said at the second of his Middle Class Task Force meetings.
Veterans and military advocacy groups learned that the administration was considering the idea soon after the president’s budget outline was announced last month. Leaders of 11 such groups sent a letter to Mr. Obama on Feb. 27 opposing the proposal and asked to meet with him, a request that was granted with a White House meeting Monday with the president and members of his staff.
American Legion Commander David K. Rehbein said after the meeting that while the president listened intently to their concerns, “it became apparent during our discussion today that the president intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan.”
Mr. Obama “refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it,” Mr. Rehbein added.