Saturday, January 29, 2022

Wicker Objects to Budget Deal’s Broken Promise to Military Retirees

Proposed Cuts Disproportionately and Unfairly Affect Veterans 
On December 18, the Senate passed the budget agreement introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who chair the Senate and House budget committees, respectively.  On one hand, the bipartisanship of the agreement is commendable, given that the federal government has failed to adopt a budget for the past four years.  But the Murray-Ryan deal contains a fatal flaw in its provision to cut military retirement benefits.  My strong opposition stems from this broken promise to our men and women in uniform.
Wicker Offers Amendment to Restore Military Benefits
During the Senate’s consideration of the budget agreement, several of my Republican colleagues joined me in introducing an amendment to restore the full retirement pay of current and future military retirees.  Under the budget deal, cuts would reduce annual cost-of-living adjustments for military retiree pensions by one percent.  Unlike current federal workers, who were spared from similar treatment, service members are unfairly singled out.
According to the Military Officers Association of America, the adjustment would have a significant impact on the lives of those who have dedicated their careers to serving our country.  The average enlisted retiree could see a reduction of more than $80,000, while the average officer could lose more than $120,000.  Particularly appalling is that the cuts affect disabled veterans, including those who were forced to retire because of a service-related injury.
Senate Democrats Block Effort to Fix Pension Cuts
I am disappointed that my amendment to the budget agreement was not brought up for a vote by the full Senate.  Instead, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) employed a legislative tactic known as “filling the amendment tree,” in which he prohibits anyone but himself from offering amendments.  The practice is often used to stymie efforts by the minority party to improve legislation, in this case to remove an onerous provision that hurts our country’s veterans.
As a member of the budget conference, I expected the budget agreement would take tough decisions from both political parties.  Unfortunately, the bipartisan conference was not consulted before the budget deal came to a vote.  If that had happened, the conference could have worked to find a less harmful replacement for the military pension cuts, which total approximately $6 billion.  Not only do these cuts burden military retirees and their families, but they defy Congress’s own orders when it established the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission last year.  In recommending reforms to military pay and benefits, the commission was directed to protect the commitments that have been made to current military personnel and those who have already retired.  The same rule should apply to the budget deal.
Fight for Fairness, Accountability Continues
Americans are right to be upset by the string of broken promises from the Obama Administration and Congress.  President Obama emphatically promised that Americans could keep their health-care plan if they liked it.  Sen. Reid promised that he would not change Senate rules affecting the rights of the minority party.  Neither have made good on their word.
Restoring military retirement benefits would keep the promise that was made to our service members.  Although the budget deal has passed, the fight goes on to ensure America’s men and women in uniform are not asked to shoulder an additional sacrifice.  Like many of my colleagues, I am committed to reversing the budget’s negative impact on our military retirees.
Roger Wicker– Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker is a former President of the Ole Miss Associated Student Body.
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