House Panel Doesn’t Want Pentagon to Save $15 Billion
Policy + Politics

House Panel Doesn’t Want Pentagon to Save $15 Billion

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times

House lawmakers don’t want the Pentagon to spend less money, at least when it comes to subsidies and allowances for service members and their families.

A House panel yesterday introduced legislation for fiscal 2015 rejecting an estimated $15.3 billion in cost savings provisions proposed by the Pentagon for military personnel programs. Changes to food and housing subsidies, as well as the Pentagon’s main health insurance provider, would take effect next October and result in higher costs to service members and their families, as well as some retirees.

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The Defense Department wants to reduce off-base housing allowances by 5 percent, saving about $5 billion, according to the agency’s estimates. Reduced funding for commissaries, which offer discounts of roughly 30 percent compared with commercial supermarkets, would increase aisle prices by about 20 percent and save $1 billion. Both proposals would be phased in over the next few years.

Changes to Tricare, the Pentagon’s main health insurance program, would require some retirees and active-duty service members and their dependents to pay more in deductibles and copays, reducing taxpayer costs by $9.3 billion.

Instead of implementing all of these cuts, however, the House subcommittee recommended shelving or studying the issues. The summary from the subcommittee chaired by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) says, “The proposal requires outside experts to review and assess the commissary program to identify efficiencies that could lead to cost savings without reducing military family benefits.”

The reluctance to cut spending in the Republican-led House contrasts with GOP calls for less government spending, particularly when it comes to subsidies and allowances for food, housing and health care for other Americans.

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The House lawmakers are in good company, though. Their Senate counterparts haven’t indicated a desire to embrace some of the Pentagon-proposed cuts either.

“The fact that we’re now actually going to cut the commissaries, can you believe that?” Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), head of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said this month at a hearing on military health. “We’ll spend millions and billions on many of the things that we do that are important – I don’t minimize it – but we need to be looking at what we do to support the military family.”

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel is scheduled to vote on the legislation later today. Measures such as these introduced by the majority party are rarely altered in a significant manner, though lawmakers can offer amendments as consideration of the bill proceeds through Congress.

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