The “President Obama wants to cut military pay” meme.
Getting a ton of emails on this, and wanted to address it if only to give my conservative detractors an equal chance of attacking me as my liberal ones.
The genesis of this latest batch of emails seems to be from a press release/fund raising letter from Move America Forward. Somewhat interestingly, I couldn’t find it on their website, but I did find it at the Canada Free Press:
In the latest and most outrageous move, the Obama administration wants to cut pay and/or benefits for our troops and their families, even those deployed overseas fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, in order to reign in budgetary spending.
It’s the classic game that the liberals play whenever they are in power – they are always quick to claim they support the troops, but the military is always first on the chopping block. Yesterday Secretary of Defense Robert Gates revealed that the Obama Administration was considering cutting military paychecks when he said in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.
“The defense secretary said the strategic review could require politicians to look at other uncomfortable choices, including pay levels for service members, new approaches for retirement and pensions, or higher healthcare costs for working-age retirees.” - David Alexander, Reuters 24 MAY 2011
Thanks to the Obama Administration, the gilded age where America supported it’s troops in times of war may be coming to an end, and this commander-in-chief may be asking our troops to fight two wars while at the same time GIVING UP pay, and benefits both for themselves, their spouses and their children!
It continues in that vein for a while, and then apocalyptically foreshadows:
Can you imagine what it would feel like to be serving overseas, fighting the war on terror in Iraq or Afghanistan, far away from your family, and then you receive a letter in from your own Government, saying that your paycheck is going to get cut and the prescription medicine for your kid’s ear infection that used to get covered by your military healthcare plan is now going to have to be paid out of pocket and there’s nothing you can do about it because you’re 6,700 miles away from home dodging bullets and trying to shoot back and kill these crazy radical Islamic terrorists!
Now, they are basing this on the speech by Secretary Gates at AEI. You can read the entire speech here, and I encourage you to do so, rather than simply take the Reuters report at face value, you can see the context under which he made the statements that are being attributed to him. Specifically, Gates noted that he had “launched a comprehensive review last week to ensure that future spending decisions are focused on priorities, strategy and risks, and are not simply a math and accounting exercise.” That review he noted would:
Re-examining military compensation levels in light of the fact that – apart from the U.S. Army during the worst years of Iraq – all the services have consistently exceeded their recruiting and retention goals;
It could mean taking a look at the rigid, one-size-fits-all approach to retirement, pay and pensions left over from the last century. A more tiered and targeted system – one that weights compensation towards the most high demand and dangerous specialties – could bring down costs while attracting and retaining the high quality personnel we need; and
It will require doing something about spiraling health care costs – and in particular the health insurance benefit for working age retirees whose fees are one-tenth those of federal civil servants, and have not been raised since 1995.
Now, the main point of the MAF release seems to be that President Obama is behind this sudden perfidy to cut troops pay. While certainly Gates was working in his capacity of spokesman for the Administration in this regard, what is not mentioned is that this is the exact same debate that the Pentagon has been pushing for over the course of the LAST FIVE YEARS. It didn’t pop out this month from nowhere. I was listening to the same arguments from DoD actuaries that the military pay and benefits increases were unsustainable from the time I got back from Afghanistan and returned to following Armed Services hearings on the hill.
Take for example the Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation from 2005-6, which advocated almost the exact same sorts of changes that are now being discussed by Gates. Among other things, that Committee found:
- “Cliff-vesting” retirement at twenty years limits force management options and fails to recognize service of less than 20 years (inflexible and inequitable)
- No incentive to serve beyond 30 years
- Immediate Lifetime retired pay was designed for another era and force
- There is growing sentiment in the Department for “Pay for Performance,” but changes are necessary to address this sentiment
- Compensation differences not related to mission demands or performance remain in today’s system
• TRICARE costs, especially for the pre-65 retiree population, are growing rapidly
• The premium and cost sharing provisions for TRICARE retiree pre-65 Prime beneficiaries should be restored to more competitive levels with premiums and cost sharing in civilian employer plans
• The premium and cost-sharing provisions once adjusted should grow at the same rate as the annual cost-of-living adjustment to the military retirement annuity
There is a TON of information out there on how military health care delivery is taking a larger and larger share of the DoD pie. I’m not going to include pie charts etc, because I don’t want to get too lost in the forest here, but if you actually want the info, you can find it. (Perhaps starting here.) The point of this is largely that MAF is focusing on this round of a recurring message, without acknowledging that it is the same message we’ve been hearing on Capitol Hill since long before President Obama was elected as Commander in Chief. Although I empathize with any argument against lowering the pay and benefits of service-members, to lay this all at the feet of the President is to ignore the history of the preceding five years.
If any soldier, sailor, airman, marine or coast guardsmen serving overseas gets the letter prognosticated by MAF, it will be because the Congress did it, not because of President Obama. In fact, the President’s budget was defeated in the Senate by a margin of 97-0. Eventually the Congress is going to be forced to focus on the rising costs, or our national debt will go even higher. But, it is entirely unlikely that Congress is going to go along with some scheme to lower military pay while we are engaged in combat, and especially not so simply because an out-going SecDef made a statement at the AEI.
(ON EDIT: I underestimated the amount of time this issue has been on the table. In looking for art for this post, I found a study from 2003. Go ahead and take a look and see if what they were predicting then has come to pass.... Also, for you Conservatives that want a conservative saying the same things as Gates, I give you no less an authority than the Heritage Foundation.)
Regardless of who brings up any idea like this, our Legislative Staff will be knocking on Congressional doors making sure that the troops currently in harms way don't have their pay and benefits cut. Granted we do need to balance the budget, something everyone agrees with, but you don't do it by shortchanging the people who signed up on promises which the gov't is potentially trying to retro-actively change.