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Friday, August 1, 2014

Congress Correctly Addresses the Public's Priorities With Veterans' Bill

Congress this week did something which is fairly unusual these days -- it passed legislation that is directly in line with the public's assessment of priorities. The House and the Senate passed a bill that will direct more than $16 billion into the Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare system, and sent the bill over to President Barack Obama, who is expected to sign it into law. 

This fits squarely with data from a June Gallup poll showing that 87% of Americans rated "improving the way healthcare services are provided to U.S. military veterans" as extremely or very important for the president and Congress to deal with, significantly higher than any of the other issues tested.

Now, new data from the Kaiser Family Foundation also shows that improvements in veterans' healthcare is the single most important issue they tested. These results come from Kaiser's monthly tracking poll for July, whose main focus is to keep tabs on Americans' attitudes toward health-related issues, including the Affordable Care Act. In fact, the July survey shows that unfavorable attitudes toward the ACA as measured by Kaiser are at the highest levels in their four-year history of tracking it (53%), while Americans' favorable attitudes (37%) have dropped, although not to their all-time low. The percentage of Americans who don’t have an opinion about the ACA, on the other hand, is at an all-time low.

But more importantly for my purposes here, Kaiser within the poll asked respondents to assess 11 different issues and to say whether “the president and Congress are paying too much attention, too little attention, or about the right amount of attention to each.” Here we find that Americans say “too little” to six issues, in this order: healthcare for veterans, the economy and jobs, the federal budget deficit, education, Social Security, and immigration. 

Thus, two separate assessments in recent months confirm the high priority Americans give to the way in which their government deals with veterans. Keep in mind that the military is the single institution with the highest confidence level of any national institution we test at Gallup, and this priority no doubt reflects the respect and admiration the people have in the men and women who don uniforms and go forth to help protect the nation from external threats.

One issue not tested by Kaiser on their list, nor on our June Gallup list, is dysfunctional government, something which comes up very high in other Gallup measures. In our July update on Americans' views of the most important problem facing the nation, for example, problems with the way government functions was essentially tied with immigration and economic issues at the top of the list. 

That's important because this reflects one of the most significant issues of our time -- the very low regard in which Americans hold their federal government and Congress. Our testing indicates that one of the primary reasons why Americans are so down on their elected representatives is that they bicker, pay attention only to narrow partisan concerns, argue, refuse to cooperate, and don't get anything done. The passage of the veterans' bill, on the other hand, represents a [rare] instance in which both sides agreed, and within a relatively short period of time came up with a bill that passed through both houses of Congress. (They also passed a transportation bill, not included on either Gallup's or Kaiser's lists in the measures I've reviewed here.) If Congress can do more of this, then there's a possibility that we may see their approval and confidence levels begin to rise out of the depths to which they have been consigned in recent years.

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