Mugging the military retirement system
“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ‘Chuck him out, the brute!’
“But it’s ‘Saviour of ’is country’ when the guns begin to shoot;
“An’ it’s Tommy this an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
“An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool, you bet that Tommy sees!”
— Rudyard Kipling
Full disclosure: I am a military retiree and I am far older than 62. I am thus not (so far) affected by the plan put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., to cap annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for military retirees under the age of 62.
What they propose is to peg adjustments at 1 percent below increases in the consumer price index. Over time, this could cost a relatively young military retiree upwards of $100,000.
Ryan, Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Murray, chairwoman of the Budget Committee on the Senate side, said the cap was necessary to pass the federal budget, the first one in years to make it through Harry Reid’s Democratic-controlled Senate. The cap takes effect a year from now, and will save an estimated $23 billion in the next 10 years. Put this in context with federal spending that over the same 10 years likely will exceed 50 thousand billion dollars.
Those whose pensions in terms of purchasing power are impacted include combat-disabled servicemen and women. Both Ryan and Murray call this a “mistake.”
They vow to have it corrected before the cuts go into effect. Some mistake. Some promise. Does anyone really believe that savvy people like Ryan and Murray did not know exactly what they were doing? If not, why not? What is this? If you like your disability pension, you can keep your disability pension?
Sorry, soldiers. We can restore the COLA, but we can’t do anything about those missing arms and legs. Oh, and don’t bother the VA. They’re swamped over there. Try the Wounded Warriors charity.
Veterans groups have demanded repeal of all the Ryan/Murray cuts. “We the People,” one such group, has petitioned the White House to veto the entire budget act if necessary. “Military retirees have risked their lives, sacrificed normal family life, and given their prime earning years to defend the nation,” the petition reads. “One of the primary motivators for military members to spend an entire career in the military is the promise of a retirement benefit that cannot be made worthless by inflation. The Ryan/Murray proposal breaks that promise.”
Ryan, eyeing a potential run for the White House in 2016, responded in an op-ed published in USA Today. He said the need for cuts to military retirement pay is “undeniable,” and that his agreement with Murray “is one reform option and I invite others to do the same.”
What comes next? Will wounded vets be required to pay their own way home from the battlefield? Will families have to buy the flags that drape the coffins of those slain in godforsaken places overseas? Will military active duty and retirees become eligible for food stamps? Oops! My mistake. Many already are.
With the federal debt near certain to pass the $20 trillion mark before President Barack Obama leaves office, and the Federal Reserve still pumping nearly a trillion dollars each year into an economy suffering the weakest recovery since the Great Depression, inflation should be on everyone’s worry list.
Even if you buy the Fed’s assurance that it is well under control (2 percent or less), do the math. If your purchasing power declines annually by just 2 percent (the Fed’s target), how many years before you find yourself flirting with the poverty line?
It’s not enough to just complain about inflation and an increasingly unmanageable public debt. You have to do something about it, and no department of the federal government, including Defense, should be exempt from well- thought-out budget cuts.
Here’s something worth taking a look at — the Pentagon. It’s overstaffed and under-competent. That’s been common knowledge within the military for years. Fire half the civilian and uniformed workforce employed there and the armed forces, “the tip of the spear,” would be far better for it.
Oh — Capitol Hill and the White House. Fire half the hangers-on there, too. That should save a few billion more, and in time it all adds up.
R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor. A retired naval officer, he is a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars.