The recent bill President Obama signed into law which cuts the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) for military retirees below the age of 62 starting on Jan 1, 2016 is a break in faith to those who have served. Congress needs to repeal this part of the law as the first order of business.
Five years plus into the worst recession since the Great Depression, with sky high unemployment and massive inequality you would think Congress and the White House would be making a herculean effort to combat those problems head-on. As we have witnessed time and time again, this is not the case.
Instead, we have many in Washington relentlessly attacking federal worker salaries and military pensions. They have used the on going crises to push an agenda that extracts more wealth from the average Americans and redistributes it to the very rich.
When President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (H.J.Res. 59) into law on December 26, 2013, it was hailed amongst the Beltway crowd as bipartisan and tough choices needed to be made to come to an agreement. If an agreement was not to be hashed out and not written into law immediately, the horrible sequester would kick-in Jan 15, 2014 and cause more earth shattering hell, according to the bill authors, Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen Patty Murray (D-WA).
The budget deal that was hailed as a breakthrough was a really a way to shaft military retirees below the age of 62. Those unfortunate to be below that age are forced to shoulder a tax to end the sequester.
Whats At Stake
The Military Officers Association of Americaoutlines an example:
Sergeant First Class or Master Sergeant retiring this year with 20 years of service will lose $83,000 in purchasing power by the time they reach age 62.Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
What is tucked in the law that offends us vets:
The Bipartisan Budget Act....reduces working age military retirees annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) by one percentage point until they reach the age of 62.
The common belief among Beltway pundits is the Democrats were rolled because what they gave up to get a deal was a cave to Republican demands for ever more budgetary cuts. On close examination was it really? Did the Democrats give up too much? Lets take a look at Sen Murray, co-author of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (H.J.Res. 59), to speculate on what could have been going on in her mind when the military retiree pension cut came up. Keep in mind many in congress had only a short period of time to review the bill before voting, something Ryan/Murray were keenly aware of and were only too happy to keep it that way. To make the democratic process less democratic, Congressional leadership ensured amendments could not be put in, sealing the fate of the military pension COLA cut. Why bother with democratic principles when you have a sequester gun to your head? Action is needed and fast!
Sen Murray represents a state with several large military bases with approximately 102,000 active duty personnel and about 632,000 military retirees. The annual military retiree federal payout for Washington State is roughly $414,876,000. That is a large number in any language. Lets be clear, if you reduce that number by any fractional amount, which is the intent of the COLA cut, people will spend less which in turn will mean fewer job highers, fewer restaurants, etc¦ in your state. At first glance, it would seem like Sen Murray was performing some sort of seppuku ritual on her state. Millions of dollars could be at stake by her actions.
Why would she sacrifice those retirees she is sworn to represent? Could it be because of Boeing? So it seems. Boeing is in Sen Murrays district and they have had a bone to pick over the sequester. According to Boeing the sequester was forcing them to potentially renegotiate the terms of their federal contracts and not in the federal governments favor. Boeing even has a website lobbying the public to end sequestration. Yikes! What is a good Senator to do when the Boeing blue sky is falling?
It turns out Boeing is a cash contributor to Sen Murray, to the tune of $88,000. With big, bad Boeing breathing down your neck it is a good bet she listened intently. Her actions are telling. Sen Murray sacrificed her military retiree base for a mere $6.6B in COLA cuts over 10-years to tamp down Boeings full throated attack on sequestration. How cheap and unfair to her military retiree base. No, the Dems were not rolled in this deal. They got what they wanted. Sen Chuck Schumer (D-NY), quipped: it is time for the military pensioner to share in the pain like the rest of us because we (congress) have taken pretty big cuts. Yea, right. Congress has done a magnificent job in shielding itself from any sequestrations pay cuts and any other cuts for that matter. Their pensions are rock solid.
Dont get me wrong, Boeing was doing the right thing. It was Congress ill advised choices that are troubling. Hey, when your approval rating is in the single digits, like congress is, you can expect more pain in your wallet when they do something.
Back to Sen Murray. Take a look at her Dec 17, 2013 Huffingtonpost post. She wrote about the wonderful benefits of removing the disastrous sequester congress created. What she failed to prepare her thousands of retired military constituents for is she sacrificed their future buying power in order to keep (current) federal operations going. A rob Peter to pay Paul scenario.
Indeed, undoing the harmful effects of the military COLA cut will be a serious challenge.
Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI)
You can always count on Rep Ryan to push the bounds of what is not fair to the public in budget negotiations. He is the person that dreamt up The Path to Prosperity budget proposal. This proposal recommended privatizing Medicare -- recipients would receive fee based, rent seeking vouchers to pay for their health care. Yuk. Many seniors on Rep Ryans voucher plan would have ended up a lot poorer.
Lets not kid ourselves, he leads a political party that is prone to undemocratic processes.
Mr Ryan also voted for wars without paying for them. However, for him, the way out of this so called âspending money the government does not have is to place a tax on military retiree pensions by way of COLA reduction. The chickens have come home to roost.
Generals With A Change of Heart
What happened to the military officers that use to take a stand and stick to their core principles and threatened to resign if they were asked to violate them? Don't count Gen Martin Dempsey among them. Here is Gen Dempsey telling Rep John Kline (R-MN) back in Oct 2011 that he was adamantly opposed to changes to retirement compensation packages for active duty personnel. Now fast forward to Dec 19, 2013. He is now OK with changes to the budget that will have a serious impact to the compensation package of the active duty and retirees. Gen Dempsey has taken a new position because, obviously, his bosses wants him to. About face! Forward, march!
The Larger Issues
Many in Congress and some at the White House are stuck looking at only one side of the federal ledger -- the spending side -- to solve the nations problems. This is no accident. They totally ignore the revenue side because that would go to the core reasons for the inequalities we face as a nation -- the rich are getting vastly richer while the rest of us, not so much. Politicians dont want to confront this unfair arrangement. The result is we have an economic policy in place which spells bad news for pensioners and for all federal workers because of Congressional tinkering.
Beltway Messaging Craft
Politicians don’t like to talk plainly. So what they do to prepare us for pending news is they have a well crafted messaging system to push their agenda in coded language. We are constantly bombarded with Beltway jargon so as to keep us in fear of pending doom. We wince at those large, scary numbers they throw at us. But when the fog is cleared up and tomorrow is another day the real agenda for these elites is to take more away from those that have worked in the federal system and to give that money to the Wall Street crowd. It is wealth redistribution to the very rich, but you won’t find many in Congress admitting to such tactics. Anyway, that’s exactly what happened to the military retiree COLA reduction. Ryan/Murray tried to obscure what they were doing but got caught.
The Recking Crew
To make matters worse we have a wing in Congress that are willing to force our government to default on its obligations if they don't get their way. That is not governance. That is reckless. These folks are ready to throw federal pensioners under the bus because of ideology. My instincts tell me the more pragmatic Congress people are cowed by this group so we can expect more undemocratic, non-transparent legislation well into the future.
The Blowhard Crowd
The blowhard crowd are the media pundits and outside groups who have one sole task: carry messaging for the Beltway political elite. A case in point (Exhibit A) is the recent Washingtongpost Editorial, Jan 6, 2014. To make a long story short the Washington Post, like many others, back the pension cut with all feet in because that is what many in the Beltway want, and for that matter the Wall Street establishment as well. But the question for those who see the pension cut as a positive: Are you willing to take the same pay cut? I didnt think so.
If you are up to it I invite you to see the PBS video titled: Should Lawmakers Repeal Cuts To Military Pensions? PBS panel host Jeffrey Brown interviews Vice ADM Norbert Ryan, CEO and president of the Military Officers Association of America and Lawrence Korb, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress on the COLA adjustment. You will witness the difficulties in having such a debate.
Presidential Speech on Inequality
President Obama delivered an inspiring speech on income inequality Dec 4, 2013. He spoke about how the government built a safety net for people in order they help themselves. He also spoke eloquently about how income redistribution has gone more and more to the wealthy since World War II. He said the growing income gap between the rich and poor is a threat to the country.
He additionally spoke of ways of undoing inequality in our society. But on the first chance he got to show he truly meant what he said, he signs the Ryan/Murray bill into law and thus pushes military retirees deeper into income inequality. Holy double-speak! Oh, not to forget.... He also sealed the fate of future federal civil servants. By signing on the dotted line they will have to pay more for their own retirement. Only Washington can write this awful script and try to make it sound logical.
What Retired Military Veterans Want
We veterans want only what was promised to us. What that means is repealing the section of the law that cuts military pensions. Unemployment among veterans is tragically high and many have a hard time adjusting to civilian life after a long stint in the military. A cut of this magnitude is a huge deal for us.