Policy: Budgets & Deficits

Targeting service members for budget savings is a losing strategy for Republicans

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Opinion,Hugh Hewitt,Columnists,Defense Spending,Budgets and Deficits,House Republicans

What do former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates; former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton; Charles Krauthammer; Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla.; Rep. Corey Gardner, R-Colo.; and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan.; all have in common?

Each has appeared on my radio show in the past two weeks and criticized the House GOP's decision to cut the pension guarantees of career service members younger than 62 who have served 20 years or more, including those on active duty right now who have served nearly 13 years of war and who have deployed countless times.

The transcripts of most of those conversations are available at my website.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and one of his committee colleagues, Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., have appeared and gamely tried to defend the position that the career military had to "go first" and take the retirement hit in a bill that penalized no other group in America, and which in fact spent another trillion dollars the country doesn't have.

The only $6 billion the House GOP won't borrow is the $6 billion that would have gone to the men and women who have been fighting the war.

Other voices — off-the-record voices — tell me that there has been no outcry, no phone calls to congressional offices, and no worries among House leadership. Folks running statewide may have to worry about veteran votes, but not Republicans in safe districts.

The potent charge that Republicans have reneged on the terms of the retirement package the war-fighters have earned is answered by assertions that those troops have very generous retirement benefits anyway, that "the Pentagon wanted this," that the funds were needed for Pentagon readiness budgets, and that public employees everywhere have to prepare themselves for haircuts and if the House GOP didn't start with the career military, the budget cutting would never get started.

The pushback has begun by conservatives supporting the military.

"I think we absolutely need to honor the commitments that we have made to the men and women who volunteered, who step forward to defend all of us and defend our rights," Cruz told me.

"I couldn’t understand it," Bolton told me. "To me, it was incomprehensible in a budget deal that was always going to be fairly insignificant, why that had to be one of the targets for cuts. If they couldn’t find anything else to cut, I just would have left that out and taken the consequences in sequestration elsewhere.

"It is a breach of faith with the military," Bolton added.

As for the charge that the "Pentagon wanted this?"

"I know that when we were talking about any changes to retirement benefits when I was secretary," Gates told me, "particularly on retirement pay itself, my assumption was that those who were in the service then or had been in the service would be grandfathered so that any change would really only apply to new soldiers signing up, or new members of the military signing up. So they would know on entry what the changed circumstances would be."

The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol has argued that the GOP should accept a "clean" debt limit bill in exchange for a pledge from House Speaker John Boehner that no immigration bill will reach the House floor in 2014. That is an acceptable deal that could be made excellent if attached to the debt ceiling was a repeal of this most unfair act of the Party of Reagan in the 34 year's since the Gipper's election on the promise to rebuild the military.

Don't count on it. The House GOP seems intent on saving the Democrats from the consequences of Obamacare by serially enraging the building blocks of their majority.

"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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