Even while he is enjoying a taste of the national spotlight, Gus Bilirakis has one of the easier assignments of any Florida congressional representative this year.
Bilirakis has been in Congress for almost a decade now and he’s in the mix for a major promotion. With fellow Florida Republican Jeff Miller bowing out of Congress, Bilirakis could be in line to serve as the next House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman. Currently Bilirakis is the vice chairman of the committee.
Paul Ryan turned to Bilirakis this past weekend to offer the GOP’s weekly radio address on veterans’ issues.
"As vice chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I have seen the devastating shortfalls within the VA firsthand,” Bilirakis said. “The legislation we advanced this week will help bring about crucial reform efforts to help our nation’s heroes. We owe it to our veterans, and we must not cease until they receive the support and care they have earned and deserve.”
“Our troops risk their lives every day to protect this country—that risk shouldn’t still exist when they come home,” Ryan said. “The VA is in desperate need of reform, and I’m proud of the work Gus is doing to make sure our veterans are treated with the care and respect they so selflessly fought for."
In the radio address, Bilirakis hammered the Obama administration, accusing it of not doing enough to reform the VA. The Florida congressman also showcased reforms passed by the GOP controlled Congress including more staffers handling medical claims, more use of electronic medical records and cutting down on bonuses for senior staffers.
While 2016 is shaping up to be one of the wildest congressional election cycles for Florida in recent memory, Bilirakis looks poised to enjoy a quiet year. Representing a safe Republican district, at this early stage, Bilirakis has little to fear in the general election from his two Democratic opponents: activist Damian Stone and attorney Robert Tager. Even if Donald Trump weighs down Republican candidates (and that is no sure thing by any means), Bilirakis should keep his seat.
This affords Bilirakis the luxury of paying more attention to his effort to replace Miller as Veterans Affairs Committee chairman. He’s not a lock by any means and there will be complaints about someone from Florida remaining in charge of the committee even with its large population of veterans, especially elderly ones. But Ryan clearly is thinking of giving Bilirakis the gavel and this past weekend’s address was something of an audition, especially as Trump makes veterans’ issues one of the core parts of his campaign.