Topics: Veterans Affairs

What John Boehner should say about the cut in military retirement benefits

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Opinion,Hugh Hewitt,Columnists,Veterans Affairs,John Boehner,Defense Spending,Pensions

The House of Representatives will almost certainly undo this week the very unjust cut to the retirement benefits of career military which House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., engineered in the recently adopted spending bill.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had left the door open to such a cut in his negotiations with his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray, D-Wash., but the initial blowback to that cracked door had persuaded most observers that the House GOP would not be so dense as to break faith with the men and women whom have been fighting the war for the past 13 years.

Signals were given that no such breach of faith would happen. Promises, it was implied, would be kept.

But they weren't. When Rogers revealed the spending plan a month ago, a few veterans had seen their full benefits restored -- those who had been seriously wounded. Everyone else planning to or or who had already served 20 years and were younger than 62 still got whacked.

And the anger erupted. Across the entire community of veterans and active duty military, especially among spouses who had spent 15 or more years and six, seven or even eight deployments away from their husbands and sometimes wives, and from the extended families and supporters of the military.

This is where the only cut in retirement spending would come. The only $6 billion in benefits the Congress could chop in this bill would be from the men and women who fought the war. (Note: Last week the Congress authorized $956 billion in farm spending.)

A few brave souls on the Hill tried to defend the cut -- the true believers in the "debt is our biggest national security threat" argument -- but anger rolled over the GOP caucus and will grow and grow.

Military retirement after 20 years isn't an "entitlement." It was earned, and often at great cost, and earned as well by the wives and husbands who didn't deploy with their spouses but who served as single parents and base coordinators as well. Yes, the military received raises during the past 12 years, but no private sector firm would dare argue that raises given for work that is hard and dangerous provides an excuse to dock retirement pay by the same amount.

Promises were made. Promises relied upon. Promises that should be kept from the lowliest private to the most senior general.

They and their families earned every dollar they are owed. Members of the House and the Senate who break that promise shouldn't expect one vote from a veteran or a friend of a veteran. Representatives who vote against restoration will call it a "tough vote." Not nearly as tough as the time spent away from family on even one 15-month deployment to Afghanistan.

My church has a young man headed back next month on his fourth. His father served 20-plus years in the Army as well, and his sister is serving too. I can assure you, we haven't paid them too much, and their retirement benefits won't be too high. They are not retiring from 30 years in plan check, or 20 years at the water district.

The Twitter hashtag for the movement to make Congress put back the retirement stolen from veterans who have served is #KeepYourPromise. Follow it this week.

The speaker has never asked for my help as a ghost writer though I have scribbled for many of the bigger names in the GOP for the past quarter century. Uninvited, here is my suggested opening for his remarks on the introduction of the debt limit hike with the repeal of the career military cost of living adjustment cut attached:

"We will be bringing a debt ceiling hike to the floor later today or tomorrow. It will have attached to it a couple of must-dos and one apology.

"We will do the doc fix, everybody knows that. We should do a repeal of the medical device tax, and we hope the Senate agrees. Perhaps Harry Reid will attach an unemployment extension to the bill and if he does it had better come back with the repeal of medical device tax and Kelly Ayotte's plan to replace the revenue. We will see. There are a lot of moving parts.

"But whatever we do, and we have to do it quickly, we will repeal the cut to the retirement benefits of the career military. A complete repeal. No tricks. No winners and losers among the men and women who served at the lowest or the highest level. No carve-outs. We are repealing that cut. It was a mistake. We make mistakes. This is one of them.

"And here's the apology. We were wrong. We shouldn't have done that. We are fixing it. When military pay and benefits are reformed, cost-savings reforms will apply prospectively and not retroactively. Those men and women of every rank and length of service who are currently serving and have served have got to know that we slipped up here and we are sorry about that. Genuinely so.

"This happens in the Beltway every now and then, and then your friends on the Hill, in the communities you live in, your families and especially your parents and your spouses remind us of what you have done and how you have served, and for how long, and how far away, and how dangerous it has been. How hard it has been on those you have left at home.

"In the infighting that we call politics we tend to forget what real fighting is like. In the often busy and stress-filled lives we live, we tend to confuse the sacrifices and stresses some of us put up with to serve the public with what you have done and continue to do. That is just a mistake on our part. There is no comparison. There isn't even a comparison with our wonderful police and fire and first responders, or our most dedicated teachers. Not with what you do and have done.

"So accept our apology. We will fix it this week.

"Now, about the other provisions…."

"Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated talk radio host, law professor at Chapman University's Fowler School of Law, and author, most recently of The Happiest Life. He posts daily at HughHewitt.com and is on Twitter @hughhewitt."
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