This Question Left Tavis Smiley Speechless in Debate Over Reforming VA Hospitals

(Photo: ABC News screengrab)ABC's "This Week" with (left to right) Bill Kristol, David Remnick (out of view), Peggy Noonan, Tavis Smiley and George Stephanopoulos, June 1, 2014.

The VA scandal has raised the issue of whether VA hospitals need fundamental reform. A question from Bill Kristol that left Tavis Smiley speechless suggests an idea long championed by conservatives could gain some traction.

Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, a conservative publication, and Smiley, a liberal pundit and talk show host, were on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" Sunday debating how to reform the Veterans Administration in light of the current scandal involving delayed care of veterans and forged documents.

"The VA needs to be fundamentally reformed. And one way it could be reformed is to, in fact, let people take a voucher and go to a hospital, the same hospitals we all go to, instead of having to go to the VA," Kristol said.

Republicans and conservatives have long argued for vouchers as a preferable method to providing government services in many areas, including healthcare. Democrats and liberals usually oppose them.

School choice, for instance, is an education reform proposal in which students would be provided a voucher to attend the school of their choice.

The benefit of vouchers, from a conservative viewpoint, is that the programs are more efficient because they do not require as much bureaucracy and government oversight to implement, and they provide more freedom and choice to beneficiaries.

Use of the word "voucher," however, had fallen out of favor in some conservative circles. In 2012, Republican consultant Frank Lutz, for instance, encouraged Republicans to use the phrase "opportunity scholarships" instead of "vouchers" in reference to school choice. And, during the 2008 election, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney used the term "premium support" instead of "voucher" when discussing his Medicare reform proposal.

Recently, though, some conservatives, like Kristol, have unashamedly gone back to using the term "voucher." His recent disputation with Smiley is a good example.

Kristol used the example of the GI Bill, which essentially gives veterans a voucher to use at the college of their choice: "Fundamentally reform the VA and reduce it. Privatize. Yes, just like we did in the GI Bill. Do you think there needs to be a veterans' university?"

Smiley countered by accusing Kristol of "playing politics" because he is using the occasion to champion a reform he has long sought.

"I'm not suggesting there ought not to be reform. But privatization, Bill, is not the answer to everything," he said. "And the fact of the matter is there are veterans coming home who are falling into poverty more and more every day. It is shameful the way we treat our veterans.

"Here's the real problem. The problem is this issue becomes significant for us when veterans don't get the healthcare they need and we want to play politics with this."

Reforming the VA through privatization, Smiley added, means that "Republicans want to repeal every bit of progress we are making to serve everyday people, whether they're veterans or not."

Kristol then posed to Smiley a question for which Smiley had no answer: "If [veterans] got a generous voucher to use to purchase the health insurance they need or the health care they need, how would that be failing veterans?"

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(Photo: ABC News screengrab)Tavis Smiley on ABC's "This Week," June 1, 2014.

The camera turned to Smiley as he sat awkwardly silent, unusual for the talkative Smiley.

Moderator George Stephanopoulos then said, "We're going to have to take a break right there in that silence."

Watch the exchange below:

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Bill Kristol Leaves Tavis Smiley Speechless Over VA Scandal