US military veterans furious over cuts to their pension benefits
The authors of the budget deal, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-Wash.), have agreed to amend the provision to exempt disabled retirees and survivors of those killed in action, eliminating roughly 10 percent of the $6 billion in savings projected over the next decade.
But Ryan has resisted efforts to abandon the pension cut entirely, calling it a “modest” adjustment to a particularly generous program — and therefore a more sensible choice than harder decisions that may lie ahead.
“I stand behind the need for reform,” Ryan wrote in a
Opponents say the policy retroactively penalizes a deserving group while doing nothing to contain the much larger cost of health and retirement benefits for the general public. Independent budget analysts note, however, that lawmakers have shied away from reductions in federal retirement benefits for any recipients — including changes to Social Security and Medicare included in Obama’s most recent budget request — illustrating the enormous political difficulty of trimming the federal government’s largest category of expenditures.
“It’s easy to be bold and brave in general, but it’s very hard to be bold and brave in specific,” said Richard Kogan, a former Obama budget adviser who works at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“You can talk about ‘reforming entitlements.’ But you can’t talk about ‘cutting Social Security,’ because the public knows what that means,” Kogan said. “Now, we’ve got $6 billion taken from military pensions — an infinitesimally small provision — and it causes people heartburn because it’s specific.”
Military pensions have long been on the chopping block, in part because the Pentagon, like many government and private entities, is struggling to cover the cost of promises made to people who now typically spend long decades in retirement. In 2012, 2.3 million military retirees and survivors of those killed in action received about $52 billion in payments, a nearly 50 percent increase over 2002, according to Defense Department actuaries.
Overall, military compensation — including health benefits and salaries paid to active-duty personnel — eats up roughly half the defense budget, a proportion that is steadily rising. In a speech in November, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that “without serious attempts to achieve significant savings” in military compensation, “we risk becoming an unbalanced force.”
Voice of Russia, Washington Post