President-elect Donald J. Trump is considering a plan to allow military veterans to opt out of medical care at Veterans Affairs hospitals and instead see private doctors of their choosing, a senior transition official told reporters here on Wednesday.Mr. Trump met with several executives of private hospital systems at his Mar-a-Lago estate on Wednesday. After the meeting, Mr. Trump called out to reporters, saying he wanted to describe his ideas for changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs, but then quickly directed one of his senior aides to describe the proposals under consideration.
When Mitt Romney briefly flirted with the idea of introducing "some private sector competition" into veterans' care, the nation's leading veterans' organizations pounced, making their displeasure clear. Romney quickly retreated and never brought it up again.This year, however, Donald Trump didn't just hint at possible privatization; he explicitly endorsed the idea, more than once. Over the summer, the Republican unveiled a "10-point plan" on VA reforms, which included such bold and visionary ideas as removing VA employees who haven't done a good job.Now, however, Candidate Trump is President-elect Trump, and as the New York Times reported, the Republican's plans haven't changed at all.
The aides offered about as many details as Trump himself did during the campaign -- which is to say, no meaningful details at all."So, the idea is to come up with a solution that solves the problem," a senior official on Trump's transition team told reporters. "And it's not the easiest thing in the world because you've got all these little kingdoms out there, which is hard."It's the latest in a series of axiomatic announcements: Trump believes there's a problem, he's eager to find a solution, and his preference would be to find a solution that solves the problem. Brilliant.Matt Yglesias added this morning that Trump "did not actually have a specific criticism of the veterans' health care status quo or a specific plan to improve it." That's undeniably true. Trump was probably vaguely aware of some controversy surrounding the VA system, which led him to his favorite response: throw around some vague platitudes about solving the problem, in a way everyone will love, without having any idea what he's talking about.As a candidate, he got away with this. As a president, those who actually believed Trump's rhetoric are probably going to expect results. Telling veterans providing their care is "not the easiest thing in the world" probably isn't going to cut it.Postscript: Just as an aside, my personal favorite moment of this broader story came in July, when Trump raised the prospect of a "private White House hotline" veterans could call for assistance. "I will instruct my staff that if a valid complaint is not addressed that the issue be brought directly to me, and I will pick up the phone and fix it myself if I have to," Trump said.I can't wait to see how this might work.