Nearly everyone agrees that military benefits need to be cut. But it remains unclear whether Congress will ever muster the political will to actually wield the axe.
A new poll conducted by the National Journal found that 90 percent of defense policy experts believe that pension and health benefits, which have doubled in the last decade, should be cut. This follows calls from higher ups at the Pentagon, who have been warning of cuts to soldiers’ benefits for months.
“Without serious attempts to achieve significant savings in [compensation] – which consumes roughly half of the DOD budget and is increasing every year – we risk becoming an unbalanced force," Hagel said in November. "One that is well-compensated, but poorly trained and equipped, with limited readiness and capability."
The reasons for the cuts are clear: When the defense budget was inflated to accommodate two ground wars and the ongoing needs of the war on terror, the ratio of military pay and benefits to the total budget were in line. Now, as the budget decreases, so must the benefits which have become lifelong entitlements.
However, in reality these cuts remain politically toxic. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) included a minor change to veterans’ benefits in their budget deal – a one-percentage-point reduction in the annual cost-of-living increase for veterans who’ve yet to reach retirement. The bill passed both the House and Senate and was signed by President Obama last week, but pushback from lawmakers on this single provision has already begun in earnest. The change is expected to save $6.3 billion over the next decade.
Last week, Rep. Julia Brownley, (D-CA) introduced a bill to repeal the provision that mandated the cost of living increase. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) also introduced a similar bill.
“As a member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, I believe our service members, veterans, and their families must receive the benefits they have earned and deserve,” Brownley said in a statement announcing the bill. “These benefits are owed to them without equivocation. That is why I have introduced legislation to repeal the military retiree COLA reduction.”
It remains to be seen whether either of these bills have broad support in the House and Senate. But their introduction, just days after the budget deal cleared Congress, shows that the battle to cut military benefits is going to be an uphill one.
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