Bush to Cut Veterans' Benefits to Pay for Credit Monitoring
By Kate Zernike
The New York Times
Thursday 29 June 2006
Washington - Two Senate Democrats on Wednesday criticized a White House plan to cut money intended for food stamps, student loans and farmers to pay for credit monitoring for veterans whose personal and financial data was stolen last month.
"The Bush-Cheney administration has no qualms about coming up here and twisting our arms for funding for Iraq, but when it comes to needs here at home for veterans and other ordinary Americans, it's rob Peter to pay Paul," said Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.
Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said, "It's outrageous to first expose millions of Americans to credit fraud and identity theft, and then try to cut food stamps, student loans and youth programs to pay for it."
"This is about taking responsibility when you mess up," Ms. Murray added. "That's something even little kids understand."
Personal data on about 17.5 million veterans, including their birthdates and Social Security numbers, was stolen last month when a burglar took a laptop containing the information from the home of an analyst for the Department of Veterans Affairs. The analyst was not authorized to take the data home but had been doing so for several years.
The Veterans Affairs Department offered to pay for a year of free credit monitoring for the veterans, which it said would cost about $160.5 million. Last week, the department said it would cover most of that cost by taking money from accounts that pay health and other benefits for veterans.
The department withdrew that idea after Democrats protested. In a letter on Wednesday, Rob Portman, director of the White House Office of Management, recommended paying for the monitoring by taking about $130 million from a food stamp employment and training program, a farmers' assistance program, student loans and a program for young people released from prison.
Senator Murray said, "This administration doesn't get it."
Mr. Leahy called the theft and the response to it "the most amazing incompetence" he had seen in 30 years in Congress.
The White House has said it did not want to raise new money to pay for the program, but rather to take money from other areas of the White House budget.
Ms. Murray said the problem was "a new disaster" and "deserves new money." She added, "This is truly an emergency."
The data theft has provoked outrage among veterans' groups; several have joined a class-action lawsuit over the theft. Ms. Murray warned that the credit monitoring will alert veterans only if someone tries to use their stolen information.
The costs of dealing with the theft will rise, she said, if veterans end up being the victims of credit fraud.