Paul Ryan Doubles Down on Cutting Veteran Pensions
House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has doubled down on his move to cut pensions for military veterans in a USA Today op-ed published Sunday.
In the op-ed, Ryan opens up by highlighting the CBO estimate that the deal he cut with Senate Budget Committee chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) would result in at least $20 billion in deficit reduction. “The Bipartisan Budget Act that Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and I drafted will soon become law,” Ryan wrote. “We think it's a small step toward fiscal discipline in Washington. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will reduce the deficit over the next ten years by over $20 billion. And unlike current law, it will provide much-needed relief to our already strained defense budget.”
As Breitbart News has reported, Ryan’s and Murray’s budget deal does not reduce the deficit. In fact, the deal raises the deficit by at least $15.5 billion because of a series of gimmicks that Ryan and Murray employed in the accounting of the deal -- namely, double counting of savings like the tactic which was employed in Obamacare, and the failure to include an estimate of the interest on the borrowed money for the first couple of years of increased spending. These are only a few among a series of other misleading statements Ryan has made about the deal.
The rest of Ryan’s op-ed is devoted to defending his decision to cut $6 billion worth of military pensions. "One part of the bill has become particularly controversial: the reduction in cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for working-age military retirees,” Ryan wrote. “The federal government has no greater obligation than to keep the American people safe and we must take care of the men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line. For that reason, Congress is understandably hesitant to make changes to military compensation. But even hesitance has a cost." Citing the rising cost per service member since 2001, he then claimed that the need for reform is "undeniable."
Ryan cited and praised President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel for his stance on the issue as well. Ryan wrote, “Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a combat vet himself, has said ‘that we can no longer put off military compensation reform. DOD's leadership, Chairman Dempsey, the service chiefs, the service secretaries, and myself, we all know that we need to slow cost growth in military compensation. Otherwise, we'll have to make disproportionate cuts to military readiness and modernization.’”
Ryan then detailed what he says the changes to military veterans’ pensions would specifically do to veterans:
Here's what the new law will do. We make no changes for those currently at or above age 62. This reform affects only younger military retirees. Right now, any person who has served 20 years can retire—regardless of age. That means a serviceman who enlists at 18 becomes eligible for retirement at 38. The late 30s and early 40s are prime working years, and most of these younger retirees go on to second careers.
Ryan characterized the change as a “small adjustment” in the next paragraph, even though he admitted it could affect veterans by as much as $100,000 or more over their lifetimes, depending on when they retire.
“All this reform does is make a small adjustment for those younger retirees,” Ryan wrote. “If they retire before age 62, the annual increase in their retired pay will be 1% less than the inflation rate. In other words, their benefits will grow every year—just at a slower rate. And when the retiree hits 62, DOD will recalculate the retired pay so that it will be where it would have been if he or she had received the full inflation adjustment every year since he or she retired." Ryan then calculated that, for a hypothetical serviceman who enlisted at 18 and retired at 38, his benefits would change under the deal from about $1.8 million to $1.7 million.
"This is a far more modest reform than other bipartisan proposals, some of which would have fully eliminated the adjustments for inflation for working-age retirees,” Ryan wrote.
Despite Ryan’s claims these cuts are a “small adjustment” for veterans, that approximately $100,000, in some parts of the country, could be a significant percentage of the entire size of a mortgage for a house. According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, in October the average size of a home loan in America was $289,650. Ryan’s “small adjustment” cuts to veterans would be more than a third, then, of the average mortgage -- and in many cases, more than half of these veterans’ lifetime expenses for homeownership.
The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) estimates that the cuts could mean as much as $124,000 in lost retirement income for veterans, which would be even more significant losses of opportunity in the future for veterans.
Ryan argued that the approximately $6 billion in savings that cutting the pensions for America’s military veterans would garner for the federal treasury would “go right back to the military.”
“In 2012, Congress established the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to examine the entire military-compensation system from top to bottom,” Ryan wrote. “The commission's recommendations are due in May, and the leaders of the armed-services committees in Congress have agreed to consider their recommendations and look for other ways to reform the system. That's why this reform does not take effect until the end of 2015 — it gives Congress ample time to consider alternatives.”
Ryan said that for America to be able to afford the best equipment on the battlefield for active duty military, these pension cuts are necessary.
“For me, there's simply no choice between responsible reforms of military compensation and making what our military leadership has called ‘disproportionate cuts to military readiness and modernization,’” Ryan wrote. "Every time we kick the can down the road, we put our troops' combat readiness at risk. This agreement put forward one reform option, and I invite others to do the same. Our troops have been willing to sacrifice everything for this country. We owe it to them to give them the best equipment on the battlefield and a secure retirement when they come home.”
In his op-ed, Ryan did not address the proposal in the House of Representatives gaining significant attention already from Reps. Martha Roby (R-AL) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA). Roby’s and Fitzpatrick’s plan would restore pensions for all military veterans and offset the savings those cuts create with savings from closing a loophole allowing illegal aliens access to the Refundable Child Tax Credit. Closing that loophole would save $7 billion -- more than enough to ensure that the Pentagon gets the money it needs to buy top-notch military equipment.
Since Ryan and Murray’s budget deal increases spending and increases the federal deficit, many conservatives and even mainstream Republicans wonder why veterans’ pensions should be cut when there is wasteful spending like leaving that tax credit loophole open, or many of the new details that Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) detailed in his “Wastebook,” among other examples of wasteful spending.
Last week, Ryan avoided discussing the proposal when asked by Breitbart News about it. Instead, his spokesman Kevin Seifert said Ryan supports closing that illegal alien tax credit loophole but also supports cutting military pensions. Seifert would not answer when pressed on whether Ryan would back the Roby-Fitzpatrick plan, which is a House version of a Senate amendment Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, attempted to attach to the deal but could not due to the procedural blocking of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Now that he is backing up his decision to cut veterans’ pensions, Ryan has taken a stance that is directly averse to the the Roby-Fitzpatrick plan -- something that could put Ryan at odds with a majority of the House GOP conference. Including Roby and Fitzpatrick, a total of 46 House Republicans have signed on to their bill as cosponsors. Powerful committee chairmen like House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and House Rules Committee chairman Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) have also cosponsored the Roby-Fitzpatrick deal. This could foreshadow a battle between House GOP power players for the future direction of the conference.