Welcome to Barack Obama’s America, where the Pentagon budget slashes benefits for active duty personnel while Obama wants a pay raise for civilian federal employees. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s new defense budget includes cutting healthcare copays and deductibles for active duty personnel and their families, as well as slashing subsidies military families get when they have to buy housing and low-cost goods.
Hagel said, “Congress has taken some important steps in recent years to control the growth in compensation spending, but we must do more,” citing payroll costs’ growth being 405 more than private sector payrolls. He protested the nation is no longer on a war footing, saying:
Today DOD faces a vastly different fiscal situation … We must now consider fair and responsible adjustments to our overall military compensation package. This is the first time in 13 years we will be presenting a budget to the Congress of the United States that’s not a war-footing budget.
Next week, Obama is expected to offer civilian federal workers a 1% pay increase in 2015, which he can offer if Congress does not block it during the appropriations process for 2015. One administration official said:
A 1% pay increase in 2015 is consistent with what the president proposed in last year’s budget and the increase that civilian employees received at the start of 2014. It reflects the tight budget constraints we continue to face, while also recognizing the critical role these civilian employees play in our country.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said:
This modest COLA [cost-of-living adjustment] would go a long way in further recognizing the value of federal employees and help bring to a close years of pay freezes. Federal employees have been undervalued and underappreciated for too long.
Dan Holler of Heritage Action criticized the action, saying, “The president’s proposal is misguided. Absent a broad-based reform that allows pay to rise for good workers while reducing overall benefit costs, a pay freeze is appropriate.”
Holler had some strange bedfellows; President Colleen Kelley of the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents Internal Revenue Service workers, said, “I strongly believe that federal employees deserve more, and this amount is inadequate.” American Federation of Government Employees President J. David Cox said, “A 1 percent pay raise for federal employees who have seen more austerity than anyone else is pitiful.” Jessica Klement, legislative director with the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association, wants the increase to be at least 1.9 percent.
Opposition to Hagel’s plan came from Paul Rieckhoff, the founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), who asserted, “We know the Defense Department must make difficult budget decisions, but these cuts would hit service members, making it harder for them and their families to make ends meet.”
The Military Officers Association of America estimated that Hagel’s plan, along with a 1% ceiling on pay hikes and an estimated 5% annual increase in housing costs, would cause an Army sergeant with a family of four to lose $1,400; an Army captain would lose $2,100.
Hagel’s plan would close more bases in 2017, reduce the active duty Army from 520,000 members to between 440,000 and 450,000 over the next five years, cut the Army National Guard from 355,000 to about 335,000, cut the Army Reserve from 205,000 to 195,000, and cut the Marine Corps from about 190,000 to 182,000.
The Air Force’s A-10 “Warthog” attack jets, which give ground troops close air support? Gone. The Air Force’s entire fleet of U-2 manned spy planes? Retired, with the unmanned Global Hawk aircraft replacing them. Navy littoral combat ships? Cut from 52 to 32.
Hagel concluded, “Sequestration requires cuts so deep, so quickly, that we cannot shrink the size of our military fast enough.”