The Fight After the Fight

Update: On December 18th, the Senate passed the budget compromise containing COLA reductions for veteran retirees (to include those medically retired from service), sending the bill to the desk of the President, where it will almost certainly be signed into law.  However, the fight is not over.  Several Senators have already introduced legislation to repeal the pension-raiding provision.  Let them hear your voice.  Here is a contact list where you can find your Senator’s information.

Also,  click below to read and sign a petition asking the White House to reject the Ryan/Murray  provision.

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/veto-ryanmurray-budget-proposal-cuts-retired-military-pension-cola-1-below-inflation-rate/l4RctYlH

Posted December 13th, 2013

Every time America goes to war, it makes promises to people, and they go do its fighting.  Invariably, when the fight is over, there is a “fight after the fight” to force the government to uphold the promises it made. Breaking them generally involves saving money, which is every bit as electorally tempting as spending money to wage war was in the first place.  As the fight in Afghanistan slowly winds down, the fight after the fight is well underway here at home.

This past week, Congress passed a budget deal and set about patting itself on the back, proud to have (finally) done its job. But buried deep in the text of the deal is the fact that it reaches into the promised pensions of retired servicemembers starting in 2016, pulling out an average of between $84,000 and $120,000 per retiree.  The provision is really that simple, notwithstanding the massive jumble of words Congress used to try and obscure it.  The military is trying to put itself back together after being ground into a powder over the last dozen years.  Congress stands ready to say “thanks” . . . but wants to add “yeah, about that pension we promised.  We need some of it back.”  Wait, what?

If it passes the Senate, retirees will have their compensation reduced through a cute accounting tactic reflecting the shameful dishonesty of this proposal.  By adjusting retiree Cost-of-Living Adjustments at a rate 1% below the Consumer Price Index, Congress hopes to steal money out of the wallets of those who have fought the reckless wars it authorized, but seeks to do it in a manner surreptitious enough that each individual hardly notices s/he’s being pickpocketed.  This is an attempt to sidestep the legitimate outrage many would express if they understood what was being done to the pay they were promised, and what it might mean to the vitality of the All-Volunteer Force in the future.  As the son of a Vietnam draftee and the father of two teenagers, I am gravely concerned that we haven’t internalized, as a society, that the luxury of securing our interests without conscription is expensive, but critically necessary.  If we don’t pay now, we will pay later, and the cost will be an order of magnitude greater . . . if indeed it can be measured at all.

It comes down to this.  We have to act.  The Senate has to hear our voices. Congress passed this measure without so much as an Armed Services Committee meeting.  We can’t let the Senate sidestep the test of debate in the same manner.

So, whether you have a personal interest or not . . . if you value the security provided to this country through the dedicated service of our All-Volunteer Military, please consider visiting this link and sending an email to your Senators as well as President Obama repudiating the recent congressional budget proposal.  It takes about 2 minutes, and I’ve given you some text below to paste into your email if desired.

If you need convincing, check out the Op-Ed I wrote for Business Insider back in March. I was worried  then, based on internal discussions in the DoD indicating an inappropriate acquiescence to the notion of breaking promises, that this might come about. I remain worried that this is only the beginning, especially given that the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and Service Chiefs have absented themselves from this discussion, signaling ambivalence if not approval of the gutting of personnel funds.  These senior officers may believe they’re doing the right thing by conserving funds to pay for weapons rather than keeping promises to those who have already done their duty.  But I contend that nothing — no weapon ever built — is as important to national security as the individual Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine willing to fight and die for this country.  They do it because they believe in it, and that belief grows in large part from the bond of honor formed between citizen and country.  If we break our promises, that honor is sullied and that bond threatened.  If we let Congress and the generals get comfortable breaking promises, they’ll break more.  And if they break enough promises to totally destroy the honor bond with our volunteer servicemembers, everything they fought and died to uphold over these difficult years will be diminished.  Oh yeah, and good luck getting volunteers in the future.

If you think military members are overpaid, I beg to differ. Read my thoughts here. 

For more than a decade now, military members have had an option, upon reaching 15 years of service, to either (a) maintain a full pension based on rate of base pay over the last 36 months of service, or (b) take a one-time $30,000 Career Status Bonus, but accept having Cost-of-Living adjustments reduced by 1% from retirement until age 62.  In other words, the deal congress has just attempted to make mandatory for everyone has been an option for a dozen years. Most turned down the $30k bonus on the assurance that we would receive full retired pay. In doing so, we acted in reliance on a promise Congress now seeks to break. If it turns out the government will reduce pay, then it follows logically that all who turned down the bonus are entitled to a buyout, with interest. Lawsuit, anyone?

Of course, for those who took the $30k, turns out they got easy money. And on that note, I encourage those of my colleagues who remain on active duty and have ~15 years of service to check eligibility and consider taking this bonus if eligible.  In this environment, a bird in the hand may be the only one you ever get. Read about the $30k option here, and spread the word.

Finally, if you’re looking for some text to paste into your email to Washington, DC, here’s what I sent earlier tonight to President Obama and my Senators.

****

“I’m writing to ask you to reject a provision within the Bipartisan Budget Act that threatens to significantly slash retirement benefits for current and future military retirees.

The FY 2014 budget proposal includes a provision that cuts the annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for uniformed service retirees by 1 percent each year until age 62.

The cuts will have a devastating and long-lasting impact. By age 62 retirees who serve a 20 year career would lose nearly 20 percent of their retired pay.

I’m asking you to reject this provision that breaks faith with current and future military retirees, and threatens long term readiness and retention in the uniformed services.

I’d like to add that voluntary reductions in COLA for retiring servicemembers have been elective in the past, with each member offered a $30,000 bonus at 15 years of service if we agreed to accept retired COLA adjustments at 1% below CPI. Those of us who did not accept that bonus acted in reliance on the promise of full retired pay by turning it down, and will thus suffer a financial loss if the provision inserted by the House is allowed to stand. This is unconscionable, offensive to justice, and will inevitably lead to litigation.

Please reject the proposal. It’s the right thing to do.”

****

Between now and when the Senate votes on this, we will likely have spent more money on a failed war in Afghanistan than this measure will save.  In other words, as little sense as the fight has made sometimes over the past dozen years, the fight after the fight is shaping up to be every bit as nonsensical, bitter, and ultimately harmful to the national interest.  But it is a fight, make no mistake, and if we don’t engage, we will lose by default.

You have two choices.  either act now, or tell me why I’m wrong.  No matter what you choose to do, I invite you to forward this post to everyone you know, and enlist them in this fight.

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  • Anonymous

    Great read Tony, couldn’t have said it better!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the easy read tc. I put in my email to the potus and senators! ~jake

  • dmh

    Tony, the $30k is still a far worse option than this adjustment. The same person would lose ~$450K instead of ~$120K due to the way the COLA works in these two setups.

    • Tony Carr

      You’re assuming they leave at 20 years and they don’t invest the $30k. You’re also assuming more promises won’t be broken. Then again, I’m not advocating folks take it . . . I’m telling them to take a close look.

      • Cory

        Tony, there is actually another significant difference in the CSB option. By taking the 30k, you are also buying into a 40% pension at 20 years, not the current standard 50%. That is a huge chunk in itself over the course of retirement and actually results in a greater loss to those who take the CSB than staying in under the current plan…even of you assume they actually invest the 30k for the long term – which, on that note, who REALLY ever does that? Even the DoD info available regarding the CSB offer says that it is not likely to benefit someone unless they are in need, right now, of the 30k for a large purchase or something similar. Don’t get me wrong….I agree this backdoor screwjob on service members is bogus, but you also failed to accurately represent the whole CSB offer…

      • Tony Carr

        Cory: a couple of thoughts on this point. You’re right in that I haven’t taken pains to fully illuminate the meaning of the CSB/REDUX provision of the current retirement system. But I disclaim that by telling folks to look closely for themselves. For some, it might make sense. Moreover, you’re basing everything you’re saying on the assumption that the promises we’ve been made about retirement multipliers will be kept. I’m a little less apt to believe that in light of what congress has just done. I think everyone should make an individual determination and do what is best for them. And as far as my not providing full disclosure, I give readers of this post more than they’d likely get from their own chain of command . . . and at least show them where to look to read the actual rules. DFAS/DoD have never explained this provision very well, and don’t even get me started about what financial advice servicemembers get (or don’t) at their local finance office.

        But think about this on a different level for a moment. I’m one of tens if not hundreds of thousands of retirees who did not take the $30k. That decision was based in part on the reliance that I would receive full COLA adjustments after retirement. If that promise is going to be broken, I’m entitled to seek restitution of what I chose to forego in false reliance. That’s just the basics of a contractual agreement. Even if servicemembers currently serving don’t see merit in taking the $30k in light of broken promises, those of us who didn’t take it have a legitimate beef with DoD, and that provides leverage in this discussion. If I’m a Senator weighing how to vote and I’d really like to find a different way to raise $6B, the fact that a good portion of that savings might get chewed up in future litigation provides some nice cover.

    • http://fearhonourinterest.wordpress.com Eric “Merf” Murphy

      Personally, If I knew then what I know now, I would probably go back and take the $30K. If you can stay on active duty for just a few years past 20 (and get any return at all on the $30K), you hit a break-even point. The lump sum is starting to look pretty good right now.

      • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

        I honestly have not seen a scenario that could have ever convinced me to take the CSB/REDUX. If you have one please share it.

  • https://www.facebook.com/sue.m.brooke511106 Sue Stengel Brooke

    This is typical of the Obama government machine…take from those who already gave and give to those who never contributed. What do you expect from a man who called the men who died at Benghazi a “bump in the road”? God save us!

    • Anonymous

      Paul Ryan along with a Democrat are focusing on our retirement. Last I checked Ryan is a Republican who lost to President Obama and is not on his Administration.

    • judy

      Obama hate, Sue. It was bipartisan. Check voting records; republicans are generally more likely to take away veteran benefits and cut their pay. If you criticize “bump in the road,” you also must criticize Reagan’s “you have to break a few eggs if you’re going to make an omelet” comment. Let’s focus on the needs of veterans instead of trying to redirect it all into political hate.

  • Anonymous

    The repercussions of this resolution, should it pass, will be terrible. But I think this travisty is more reflective of our society today than our elected leadership. Our citizens really don’t care. Their representatives are simply giving them what they want. Look around. Does it feel like we are at war? Are people at home sacrificing? Do people care about the military other than wearing a symbolic ribbon or a bumper sticker to make themselves feel better? Look at the state of our VA system. People are more concerned with Miley Cyrus and the next iPad release. Our citizens endorse this path via their silence. It is indicative of our society breaking down. You can deploy a soldier many times and he will suck it up, largely because he digs deep and knows he may be fighting for what he thinks is right and just. But now we are messing with his financial ability to take care of his family, after pretty much lying to his face. People change when you mess with their families. The military will change. Our readiness will change. Our country will change. I think this event will have historic impact down the road. While I don’t think we are going to drive our military to execute a coup, we are changing the fabric of our nation. People you don’t tell to f*ck off: your brain surgeon, your contractor, and your military folks that you will need one day. I’m not sure how our military goes on serving when the very citizens they are sacrificing for turn around and stab them in the back. If this passes, we probably just created 1000 more Bradley Mannings.

    • judy

      exactly right, anonymous. We create a nation of ignorance–not just of our soldiers’ and veterans’ needs, but of international issues.

  • Anonymous

    Turn the guns on the ones leading from behind!! The military is the only reason that they have the ability to do this. I am retired but I damn sure don’t depend on these crooks. If you believe in the system then you get what you deserve.

    • Anonymous

      ditto

  • https://www.facebook.com/jlrmhilton Jeremy Hilton

    We’ve created a central hub to try to organize military families. Please join us! https://www.facebook.com/events/239195126239820/239677942858205/?notif_t=like

    • Tony Carr

      Thank you for leading in this effort — I’ve shared your posts broadly and sent people your way!

  • Sugar

    Here’s an alternate tack you could take: “We’ll withdraw our protest and support the deal as written…provided Congress accept proportional & like reductions in their own retirement benefits”.

  • Eric “Merf” Murphy

    TC—

    Nicely done, and I agree with you in principle, but…

    I hesitate to make the argument I’m about to make–inevitably, Godwin’s Law will come high and inside and, in all likelihood, hit the batter—but I’ve read no contrary arguments. I get nervous when everyone is saying the same thing, and it seems wise to at least consider an alternate view. (I’m also a little disturbed by the tone of some of the argument I hear from serving officers, but that’s a different and probably insoluble problem.) So, take this as a Devil’s Advocate or red-team discussion.

    Before I go down this road (are those yellow bricks I see?), I’d like to note for your readers that I am a currently-serving Air Force officer with 17 years of service, and I write this from Afghanistan. So, I’m in a position where I’ve elected to not take the $30k option, I’m one of the people being asked to make some of the sacrifices and render the services you describe (I am happy to do so, by the way), and this is a change that will affect me and my family very directly. By my estimate, if I were to retire as an O-5 with 20 years of service, in the last year before I turn 62 I would receive about $10,300 less in retirement pay under the proposal than expected and a total loss over 17 years of about $80,000. (This is based on average inflation calculated from the years 2001-2012 and the 2013 pay table; I came into the Service at 25 rather than 22 as most calculations for officer retirement use, so others will see different deltas based on age/grade at retirement. I know inflation and CPI are different, but this calculation was convenient and I’d rather discuss fundamentals rather than minutiae.)

    So, I know with a fair degree of accuracy how large the effect on my retirement pay will be, and I feel all of the same emotions as everyone I’ve heard from. I’m as annoyed by the bait-and-switch as you are…though the deception isn’t quite as extreme as you describe. Remember that the “CSB/Redux” retirement program includes 1) the noted reduction in COLA adjustments, 2) a $30,000 bonus at 15 years of service, 3) and—critically—a 1/12 of 1% reduction in retirement multiplier for each full month of creditable service less than 30 years, or 40% for a 20-year retirement.

    That said…

    Assuming the issue does not center on grandfathering (i.e., the objection is to restructuring in general along the lines described in the HASC plan), I wonder: How do we feel about changes/reform in non-discretionary funding? Should Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security undergo structural reforms to ensure that they are sustainable? Are the promises implicit or explicit promises made with respect to these programs any different from the promises made to military members? How do we reconcile the dissonance in our view of government spending as they relate to “social welfare spending” and our military retirements, if there is, in fact, any dissonance? (I concede that some may see no need for significant structural reform in our non-discretionary spending and match this nicely with a desire for retention of the status quo in military retirements.)

    On the other hand, the fundamental objections may be based on promises made to serving members, and there may be no objection to a restructuring of military retirement for those not yet in service so long as those who entered the service some date receive the same benefit under which they signed up (are grandfathered). If this is the case, I wonder how we should view promises that should never have been made and were always unsustainable. If current and future obligations based on past promises contribute to a sustainability problem, what are we to do? We can ignore these and clamor for retention of our entitlements and prerogatives (just as public sector unions have done). The problem with this economic approach is that benefits accrue to individuals while costs are collective (and incurred by a collective larger than the interest group). That is, the conditions are precisely those in which locally rational decisions of value maximization lead to globally irrational outcomes. (See Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons.) And these globally irrational outcomes are not a theoretical fiction. This is approximately the plight of Detroit, Stockton, San Bernardino, Greece (perhaps not fair to include since formal default was narrowly avoided), etc. And in each of these cases, the inability of individual interest groups to accept restructuring of promises that should never have been made has led to mass abdication of those promises with far greater loss than would have been incurred through restructuring.

    I am not saying the Ryan-Murray budget is the right solution, and if social welfare entitlements such a Social Security and Medicare are the 3rd rail of politics then touching military compensation is like dodging trains. (Those analogies worked not at all, but bear with me.) This is part of the reason we find ourselves where we are; political hay can be made from pandering to the military and the patriotism of Congressional constituencies, but those incentives are disconnected from effective governance and sustainable administration of our military forces.
    If Ryan-Murray (or a variant involving grandfathering that pushes any savings 20 years into the future and offers no amelioration of near-term fiscal issues), isn’t the “right” solution, though, what is? What can be changed? Here’s a logical leap for you: Are we facing the end of our experiment in the all-volunteer force?

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

    Merf

  • http://www.PickYourBattles.Net Pick Your Battles

    I think social security is an example of a promise that should not have been made, but I do not think military retirement falls in that same realm. I think it’s unfortunate that military retirement and health care is becoming the bogey man behind the political failure and mismanagement of Detroit. I do think morally they are in the same realm, as regards government making a contract and then welching on it.

    Welching on military retirement (rather than visiting the massive and politically guarded pork projects and wasteful spending that exists in the military, to say nothing of the wider federal government), only affects those who served in the military. Welching on social security affects everybody.

    And welching on both, will doubly affect military retirees who will get to have promises broken to them in multiple ways.

  • Anonymous

    You should have gotten out years ago. The writing has been on the wall for a while. Leaving the AF was one of the best decisions I ever made.

    • Anonymous

      Even though you have left this Budget Act will still effect you.
      I can’t wait to retire… almost there!

    • Tony Carr

      I’m less interested in how this impacts me individually (though obviously not completely disinterested) and more concerned about the impact on our future national defense. I’m also not interested in apathetic resignation to the notion of a do-nothing or promise-breaking congress. Political accountability is alive and well in America, and so is the ability to influence policy through civic action. That’s the route I choose to go, though I agree with you . . . leaving active duty when I did turned out to be the right call.

  • Anonymous

    Merf,

    not a lot of time to respond, but here are my thoughts on your post:

    1. military retirement is very different from other social entitlement programs like SSA because military service is a contract for services rendered. You actually DO something, make a choice or sacrifice, in return for the promise of payment. With SSA, Medicare, etc, you do nothing. Simply being a citizen is the grounds for receiving SSA/Medicare/Obamacare. Yes, I know there are contributions that you make to these programs, but we can all agree that the programs are fundamentally not a return for your payment…your payments are simply a tax to fund current expenditures. These programs are taxes just like other taxes to pay for roads and schools. We have to make hard choices now (unfortuantely). When choosing to reform a program that is a contract for service, versus one that is a promise for citizenship, we should honor a contract. We have it backwards right now. We are doing a little mini-bankruptcy to wipe away the debt of military retirement by re-writing the law. The hard choice is the break the promise of SSA (and other programs) promised payouts, and make people adjust to that, which they will. Reform that nobody wants to do. Nothing will change in our society’s mindset of living on a credit card until the limit is cut off. And maybe that will finally get America to actually follow a budget, and make better choices to always ensure solvency, so that we actually honor these contracts for service (like military retirement). It doesn’t have to be a draconian Ron-Paul-slashing, but the longer we wait to reform our spending, the harder it will be.

    2. I don’t think the promises made for military retirement were done under unreasonable or mathematically impossible grounds. It was payable and still is. The crux of this issue is the choices citizens have made (through their elected leaders) to manage other parts of the budget. Citizens have made poor (some would argue greedy) choices on where to spend the money that now makes us insolvent. Whether you think that’s wasting money on dumb wars, or not acting earlier to reign in entitlement spending, etc etc…we always knew how many folks were in the military, the predicted cost of their care and retirement, etc. While there are always unknowns (recessions, 9-11, wars that don’t go as planned, etc), I submit there has always been enough data to make an appropriate forecast of future budget needs with enough time to steer the ship in a different direction to remain solvent to our commitments. If the bean counter sees that the 10 year outlook is not good, he proposes a new tax to pay for the spending, or proposes a cut somewhere. Make the choice. That is what doesn’t happen. Greece needed to reform its system long ago, and transform its economy to one that produces goods/services that people actually want (people want cars from Germany, not olive oil and gyro sandwichees). They didn’t reform and they went belly up. Similar arguments can be made about other bankruptcies. Bankruptcy of this scale doesn’t happen overnight with a big surprise. People know it’s coming, and they also know they will have a way out (declare bankruptcy). No one wants to jump off the bridge until it’s burning. So while I agree with you there is an argument to be made not making promises you can’t keep, I don’t think that applies to this particular situation.

    Thanks for the discussion.

  • http://facebook. linda keamer

    this is so wrong these men and women fought for our country and for you Congress to try and screw them out of it is just plain bullshit, cut your own pay, what have you done for our country and none of your children have fought for us.cant express how much this p####s me off.

  • Figanootz

    Tony,
    Glad to see you are still writing! Great article and thank you for providing the links and suggested action.

  • LAS

    We are retiring soon, and I am not surprised to see this coming. It is always easy to go after retirement pay and benefits. (Well, they might think its easy but they may have finally kicked the hornets nest!) I’m waiting to see what they’ll do with tricare down the road. If they want to change any of the current systems, I get that, but to change a contract after one side has fulfilled their obligations is so wrong. Change it so people coming in know what they’re signing up for, then see his many volunteers you get. I have no more faith or trust in our government. I’m glad we’re almost done.

  • Anonymous

    I would like to add my name to the email being sent to Congress and the President. Is there some reason APO address have been left off? Is there another way to “sign” my name at the bottom? TY
    \

  • Eric “Merf” Murphy

    Love the debate…iron sharpens iron…

    Some thoughts…

    Can we all agree that “all agree that the programs are fundamentally not a return for your payment…your payments are simply a tax to fund current expenditures”? The rate at which we receive Social Security is determined (with respect to the primary insurance amount) by the contributions we make over time (indexed to account for changes in average wages). Benefits received (because unsustainable promises were made) are generally larger than those paid in, but it is, in fact, a return for your payment in a functional sense. So perhaps agreement is not as universal as you suggest…though your suggestion is a fine rhetorical attempt to distinguish between the two arguments. Further, I might suggest listening to a crowd of retirees (or those nearing retirement) when the subject of Social Security Reform is broached. If you think they believe there is no contract between the government and retirees and that contract is rendered by the money they’ve paid over a lifetime of work, their responses will shock you silly.

    I think we view the notion of a “contract for services rendered” somewhat differently, and I think your argument may be weak here. For example, the Federal Employee Retirement System explicitly considers three legs in the package for determining retirement: the defined-benefit FERS annuity, the Thrift Savings Plan, and…wait for it…mandatory participation in Social Security. Sounds like a contract for services rendered to me. The notion you raise also begs the question of definition. How is regular employment, contributing to the tax base, funding the social safety net via the sweat of your brow, etc., not a service rendered? The link between the implied promise of Social Security and the services rendered is more tenuous—I’ll even concede to significantly more tenuous—but it remains a part of the social contract between citizen and government. Medicare is similar. It is an insurance program. I think we can all agree that the agreement my wife has with Blue Cross for medical insurance is a contract, as is the agreement I have with USAA for auto insurance. In these cases, the service relationship is reversed (i.e., we provide service in the form of regular payments based on actuarial risk and the company provides payment in goods and services), but the relationship is precisely that of a contract for services rendered. It so happens that USAA and Blue Cross, for a variety of reasons, do a better job of aligning their payment/services structure than Congress does…but that’s the point. Congress keeps making promises it shouldn’t such as raising military pay when advised against it, and expanding the long-term commitment for retirements with each raise.

    I also find it incredibly difficult to see any difference whatsoever in the illustrative examples of defaulting municipalities. Each of these had obligations incurred—contracts—for services rendered by teachers, policemen, firemen, career city employees, etc. The compensation packages in these municipalities were not the only issue, but they were certainly causal in the defaults that have left these teachers, policemen, firemen, and others with far less retirement than they were promised. What happens when a business declares bankruptcy and defaults on the pensions it promised its employees? I can’t and won’t blame unions for the bankruptcy of a company, but how often as a union (or an employee) been willing to accept a reduction in pay and benefits now (a locally irrational decision) to facilitate long-term health of their industry and therefore of their entitlements (globally rational outcomes)? There are exceptions, of course, but the broad answer is, “Not often.” This is precisely the situation in which we now find ourselves.

    I agree that we need to make hard choices, and I think those choices will have to include substantial reforms in social the social welfare contract (see how I did that?) and in other politically volatile areas…such as military retirement. I’m troubled by any argument that says hard choices are on the table…but not for this special group. Any argument that starts from such a proposition enables the dysfunction creating systemic gridlock in fundamental reform. I could make the argument that “promises made for [my pet rock] were” made under reasonable or mathematically appropriate assumptions and that they are still payable. Any program taken in isolation has this property, but this argument is problematic on its face since this allows everyone to make the argument. If we exempt anyone from consideration, we open the door to dysfunction. Since we’re human, though, I suspect that the dysfunction is unavoidable…and here we are. I guess I’m an equal opportunity hater—I just hate people. (Though hate is probably too strong a word. I just think that, as a species, we’re about three seconds from flinging poop at any given moment.)

    While there may have always been the data available to steer the ship of state properly, that is (at this point) irrelevant. The ship is on the rocks (so to speak); we are where we are and we cannot change the past. So, I’m afraid I don’t follow much of your second point other than to say, “Yep. Government sucks. Welcome to democracy.” And, again, this question of whether intelligent choices “could have” been made applies to every program of government. Which ones get the axe? Who chooses? How do we get people (who vote) past their self-interest? Is there any reform we can make that reaps rewards in the near term? I concede that military retirement reform is a drop in the bucket, but reform that doesn’t touch those currently in service can achieve NO gains for 20 years and will only achieve partial gains until everyone currently or formerly in service dies…in about 60 years based on current life expectancy. Where will we be if this is the path we force our government to follow with every government program in which interest groups have…well, an interest? And by “we” I mean you and me and everyone clamoring that the Congress has betrayed us, that we should never recommend that anyone join the military again (Wow! Really?), that we should “turn the guns on the ones leading from behind,” etc.

    For the record, I think breaking a covenant like this one is morally reprehensible. I also think that Lord Acton’s dictum may apply: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” I wonder if it will require reprehensible and immoral actions—the breaking of promises to more than just you and I—to win through to some new position of greater strength. I wonder if the men and women we’ve put in Congress are capable of greatness. Are they capable of giving us what we need, or will they only give our democracy the future it deserves? All I ask from the Congress is that the military are not the only ones to bear some measure of the burden for the hard choices we must make.

    Merf

    • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

      Speaking of contracts I signed one at my 15 year point that said I opt for the High-3 plan and decline the Redux. No where does the High-3 mention that I can expect the rules to change and that I accept what the Ryan-Murray plan has set up.

      Military service is not even close to being the same and civil service. Tony is spot on in his observations and comments. There are better and more constructive ways to cut and save. Merf, find your “devils’ advocate” arguments weak chiefly because your are comparing apples to oranges. The military isn’t a business or a municipality and when the Federal gov’t goes bankrupt we are all screwed. This is just more of the lazy, incompetent governance that we have unfortunately become accustomed to. They don’t want to and are incapable of doing the work of finding and eliminating the real Fraud, Waste and Abuse that is rife in the DoD.

      Speaking of Social Security, I’d love to opt out of it and say “screw it, you can keep the money you got out of me so far” and then invest the money I don’t contribute anymore as I see fit.

    • Tony Carr

      It helps if we back out and look at this contextually. What is happening here is historically idiosyncratic. States with expansive security interests (“empires?”) have typically not relied on volunteer armies. Pretty good, rational reasoning for that if you’re the prince. It’s expensive, and creates all sorts of lasting obligations. But modern America decided to go this route after Vietnam, having found conscription more offensive to its values than the alternative of maintaining a large, standing quasi-mercenary force. That was sustainable for awhile, but arguably is no longer on the terms promised and at the activity level commanded by reckless politicians. But in the meantime, we made those promises. Those promises formed a contract in the legal sense (which requires much less than we might believe), but also a contract in the moral sense, which is much more binding. We don’t get people to join and stay in the armed forces by touting benefits . . . we do it by appealing to a sense of duty and creating an honor bond. Duty, by nature, travels in both directions. They kept their duty to country, and not expect the same in return. The benefits promised are assumed, and most folks spend very little time thinking about them beyond ensuring their families will be cared for sufficient to justify the sacrifices that will potentially fall due. When those promises are broken, it’s not only a breach of contract in legal terms, but a moral offense. I think Ryan and Murray understand that, given the back door manner in which they went about this, hoping no one would notice until the celebratory din of having passed a budget for the first time in four years would be loud enough to drown out any complaints from that tiny sliver of the electorate actually taking note.

      I agree we have hard choices to make. (In fact, I’ve been cautioning my veteran friends for awhile now to be careful in their calls for cuts to government spending, given the drumbeat out of the Pentagon about the high expense associated with those pesky people who do all the fighting). But this wasn’t the hard choice. The hard choice would have been to have a BRAC, or procure 10 fewer F-35s, or pull the plug on Afghanistan tomorrow morning, or — and I’m just spitballing here — ask the richest 1% of this country (as we have in EVERY other war ever) to reach into their trust funds and pay a little more to ensure the 1% doing the fighting can have their promised pensions. Those would be hard choices. This was taking the easy way out . . . draining the pensions of those who are least likely to complain and most socialized to believe they’re privileged in being able to serve in the first place. This exposes what 332 US Representatives truly think of our need for a strong, all-volunteer force . . . notwithstanding their public pronouncements. The say/do gap is too big to hide after this.

      As for whether to recommend military service to anyone….well, my answer right now is “it depends.” I think folks need to go into this clear-eyed. Breaking a promise with zero discussion or debate is a chilling proposition. What’s next? Hell, too many promises have already been breached, like “we’ll only send you into harm’s way when it’s absolutely necessary” . . . and “we’ll make sure you’re well-led, well-resourced, and have clear objectives.” There are many reasons why I wouldn’t recommend a career in the services to my children or anyone else right now. Perhaps a four-year term, with the appropriate expectations, but also on guard for the steady stream of institutional dishonesty that has been flowing every since our politicians did the wrong thing in 2003 and the generals sat by and said nothing . . . sealing us into this current morass and all that comes with it. I have fellow students considering a stint in the services, and I often tell them to give it strong consideration. But I do so with complete transparency about what they should and shouldn’t expect. That, Merf, is the military this nation deserves. One that serves with a minimum of 51% motivation to achieve individual objectives rather than “national” ones . . . and serves with a jealous eye toward talking point leaders and politicians. And that’s the military we’re going to get, at least until a crisis forces us to return to the draft.

      • Eric “Merf” Murphy

        TC–
        You know I agree with you, right? (I am especially firm in your camp wrt your idea that this was not the hard choice and the notion that going down this path with zero debate was and is a chilling proposition…thus this discussion that I have tried to make a debate and, I suspect, the debate likely to happen in Congress now that this sucker is out of committee.) But I still don’t think there has been any direct reply to my arguments, though. Figanootz managed to slay a strawman of my argument and you’ve answered a different question entirely (though I think your answer is correct in large measure).

        You’ve focused on the admittedly terrible moral cost (and associated consequences) of breaking oath with our men and women in uniform (and those who have retired after long and honorable service). But that’s only part of the equation. (I’m glad you’ve pointed out to your military friends that calls to cut spending would land first on the discretionary budget and thus on themselves.) And we have innumerable other options to enact cuts in the DOD budget that our elected leaders refuse to entertain for a variety of reasons (e.g., BRAC) and cuts our military leaders lament (e.g., new legacy platforms rather than F-35, fewer F-35). The fact that dysfunction got us here is water under the bridge; the fact that dysfunction continues is where I agree with most of your respondents. The fact that we don’t have statesmen in Congress is a product of the electorate that puts them there (thus, the future our democracy deserves).

        Let me ask this…If a police force receives benefits that are problematic for the government to fund based on previously-negotiated contracts and current fiscal realities, should that police force (and its retirees) accept amendments to the contract (both legal and moral)? Or should they stick to their guns (so to speak) and require the cuts to be made elsewhere? I’ve heard a lot of conservatives (and military members…though not here) decry situations precisely like the one described and lament the selfishness of unions and union members in such situations. Now the shoe is on the other foot, so what should the policemen in San Bernardino or Atwater or Stockton (all in Calif) have done?

        Or let me ask this…If one of the hard choices is made and we close a base, shut an aircraft assembly line, etc., what of the people thrown out of work? The municipalities whose tax base crumbles so that they can no longer support their police force (or firemen)? What moral compass directs us to place the burden of cuts in one place or another?

        You know what just occurred to me? I wonder if I’m engaging in dissonance reduction through devil’s advocacy. The Ryan-Murray deal has left me feeling betrayed and angry (as it has many others), and from a relatively powerless position I wonder if my argument is a subconscious desire to convince myself…if it is, it isn’t working. I’ll have to think on this.

        Love this discussion, TC. I hope I’m not being boorish in appropriating your forum to think this through with you.

        Merf

  • http://gravatar.com/kimglobetrots Annonymous

    Chilling. I think we have to stand up for our military men and women. My military service was the most moving experience of my life. Becoming a dependent wife, I saw the other side of the coin, with the families going through hard times, good times and extremely challenging times. I’ve witnessed 3 of our 4 children take the honorable task to join the armed forces, living on three continents- to continue protecting the freedoms we so enjoy in this country.

    It is important to keep the all-volunteer status of our military. It reduces the strife other countries have experienced, keeps the tanks from running through our streets, missiles from our cities and keeps coup attempts off our soil. This of course in my humble opinion.

    Look around folks. WE NEED TO TAKE CARE OF THE PEOPLE WHO GUARANTEE US THE FREEDOMS WE HAVE TODAY. I think it’s pretty darn awesome that I can walk down the street without fear of being searched, or driving through checkpoints.

    Just sayin. I’m not saying everyone should join the military. BUT WHAT I AM SAYING is that for those public servants who have taken up the call- we need to support them, now and in the future.

    I rather enjoy looking out and seeing the good old red, white, and blue American Flag hanging in our streets! I shudder to think what will happen if our spending doesn’t come under control soon.

    I say our elected officials need to take a look at THEIR budgets and salaries and do some fiscal tightening. They should honorably refuse THEIR PAY RAISES until the military has seen theirs. They should WORK THROUGH A CRISIS UNTIL THE JOB IS FINISHED, not go on a scheduled breaks, recess or vacations.

    • Tony Carr

      I deeply appreciate this comment.

  • Anonymous

    I think merf nailed it!

  • http://www.PickYourBattles.Net Pick Your Battles

    “I think it’s pretty darn awesome that I can walk down the street without fear of being searched, or driving through checkpoints.”

    Not sure where you’re living, but that is not the U.S. I’m aware of. Jeh Johnson once confirmed as head of the DHS will ensure a domestic drone army makes your vision far less realistic. Not to mention Johnson’s support of the President unilaterally assassinating Americans without charge or trial, which the current President has done and claims the power to do.

    Anyway, back to the retirement discussion, and here is a video of an active duty military officer having his rights violated at one of those checkpoints you seem to think don’t exist: http://veteransagainstpoliceabuse.org/AboutUs/BorderPatrolLawsuit.aspx

  • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

    “I think it’s pretty darn awesome that I can walk down the street without fear of being searched, or driving through checkpoints.”

    NYC, stop and frisk?

    I swear I am freer living Germany than in the US. Ain’t that ironic?

  • https://www.facebook.com/john.sennett.79 John Sennett

    As a member of the US Army I can tell you that the REAL REASON we turn the Career Status Bonus down is that it also cuts our pension from 50% to 40% plus the 1% COLA reduction also unless we stay in for 30 years

    • http://fearhonourinterest.wordpress.com Eric “Merf” Murphy

      I hate to be pedantic, but technically CSB/REDUX puts you back over 50% at 23 years of service. The calculation is 2% for each year of service up to 20 and 3.5% for each full year of service after that.

      • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

        And REDUX is -1% below CPI.

  • Sylvia Koehnlein

    That figures… The men and women who fought hard for this country, are going to get the shaft, while Congress continuously votes themselves raises and other ‘perks’! The brave men and women in the military service, deserve much better than that…

  • Sam

    I appreciate you writing such an insightful piece about this issue. Thank you for taking the time to get the word out!

    For future reference to this issue (and others to come, I’m sure) please accurately name the legislative bodies conducting the votes. You say “Congress” as if ‘Congress’ and ‘House of Representatives’ are synonyms. They are not. Congressis made up of botb the Senate and the HOA. By saying “Congress passed a budget deal…,” you are misinforming your readers. http://kids.clerk.house.gov/young-learners/lesson.html?intID=29

    Keep up the great work!

    • Tony Carr

      When I say (C)ongress or (c)ongress in this article, I mean the term colloquially. Thank you for the input, even if I do insist that it’s a stretch to say readers will be “misinformed” by this colloquialism, given that the article provides plenty of context indicating the Senate has not yet participated.

  • Kathleen Winebarger

    As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of the soldiers I know in Afghanistan who have told me how they’ve been ordered to blow up perfectly good Army equipment and hand the wreckage over to the locals so that it can be sold for scrap. When the soldiers asked why they were destroying perfectly good equipment, the answer was, “It’s too expensive to ship back.” Unfortunately, these soldiers know from experience as Unit Movement Officers that it would cost around $6,000 to ship back one or several quarter million to half million dollar pieces of equipment home. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put together the pieces of this puzzle. While the retirement of these very soldiers is being threatened, the government contractor cronies at Halliburton and Lockheed Martin are assured that they will get contracts to build new equipment.

    • RPaulson

      I’ve read (and not confirmed) that a person making 50,000 dollars pays:

      -Federal military and civilian employee retirement and disability — $43.78 / 4.4%
      -Food and nutrition assistance — $36.82 / 3.7%
      -National Defense $247.75 / 24.9%

      How much of that “National Defense” is for paying soldiers benefits and how much is for paying lobbying corporations for b.s? Well I don’t know but I sure know which were given priority after the sequester.

  • RPaulson

    Admittedly I didn’t read the links, but is this part of a broader bill to cut pensions of all government employees?

    I know that members of the military think they deserve their pensions much more than all other government employees, and I don’t completely disagree, but one of the major issues which I agree with Republicans on is that you can’t sustain paying people for 50+ years for working for 20 or even 30. Financially, you would just have to sustain a level of growth that is not realistic. Personally, I am for phasing in a drawdown of public pensions over a (very!) long time.

    I think that making this bill affect people who have already put in a military career is immoral and the dishonest, but I also think it wouldn’t accomplish much if it only affects people who haven’t joined yet. What does everyone you think of it only affecting people set to retire 10+ years from now, and sticking to the contracts of those who have already served half a career or more?

    Lastly, I would add that is this happened in 1999, when we had been in peace so long, that nobody would have noticed. It wouldn’t have stopped a soul from signing up post 9/11.

    • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

      I’d say that 25 years of military service is equal to 50 years of Civilian service. We aren’t hourly workers. We work until the job is done. We deploy to austere locations, away from family, friends and all that is comforting to us and we are on duty 24/7. On top of all of that, many of us are in mortal danger the entire time we are over there.
      I have to agree with Tony. We are a bargain.

  • John McP

    How much of the national defense budget is spent on trips to South Africa for the whole family? Rumor mill puts every big trip like that at over 100 million.

    • judy

      I think your key word there is rumor mill.

  • Anonymous

    Merf, your posts in the forum should be run alongside articles against this cut. Great discussions between you and TC. Keep it up.

  • judy

    what if…we remembered how hard people fought to have our own government, and stopped hating it? What if we appreciated that we are not North Korea, and that we are “We The People”? And what if –here’s the biggest stumbling block–we didn’t see taxes as evil? It takes money to run a nation. I don’t like that some of my money goes for subsidies for Big Oil, and I don’t like that some of my money goes to places like Haliburton. But I do like roads, and schools, and the 911 system and air traffic controllers and public health nurses and research and the care my stepdaughter gets at the VA, and public parks. I don’t agree with a lot of politicians and a lot of their statements and actions. But that’s why I vote, and why I continue to be part of the discussion. Dismissing opposition as idiocy and refusing to be informed or take part in reasonable discussion is the most unAmerican thing you can do. This issue is bipartisan if ever there was one.

  • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

    Our gov’t hasn’t been “We the People” for a long time. We are angry because we are informed, see the idiocy, see the corruption and know our taxes are excessive and not wisely spent. I don’t like the my tax money gets sent to countries that hate us, to people that gave up on finding a job and buy drugs, to corn subsidies that turn food into fuel, to failures like Solyndra and to bail out companies that should fail.
    What have you seen here that is unreasonable?

  • https://plus.google.com/103209530397891961715 Addison Granato

    Want to help your retired military members? Please sign this petition to veto the proposed budget cuts to our retired military members. It is a way to say thank you to those of us who have served and sacrificed for our country. Please share with your friends as the petition needs 100,000 signatures for a response from the White House. Please share with your friends so we can make this viral!

    https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/veto-ryanmurray-budget-proposal-cuts-retired-military-pension-cola-1-below-inflation-rate/l4RctYlH

  • Mabel Davidson

    I believe we should always remember what our Military personal have done for this country. They do not deserve this kind of treatment. The government spends way too much on less important details that could be done away with.

  • http://www.PickYourBattles.Net Pick Your Battles

    Tony, I did some research on the chances of a lawsuit by starting with Colonel Bud Day’s lawsuit against the government when it broke its promise about free health care for life. I had thought the court’s ruling would be helpful, as I understood his suit was unsuccessful because DoD was making promises that congress had no backed by statute. Turns out I was wrong. The SCOTUS ruled that military pensions are not contracts, and Congress can change it at will. I would imagine a “takings clause” case could be made, but it looks like a serious headwind to me. Just goes to show that political action is likely the only way this theft will be averted, if there is any hope at all. I blogged about the particulars here: http://www.pickyourbattles.net/2013/12/stolen-retirement-what-would-bud-day-do.html

  • http://twitter.com/rovibe71 Rob B (@rovibe71)

    I agree with the sentiment 100%. We need to honor our promises to America’s soldiers. That said, I have to point out that the author is using the term ‘Congress’ separately from ‘Senate’. The Senate is one of the two bodies that make up the Congress. This is important — failure to understand this in debates like this one can cause people to blame the wrong people and make excuses for the wrong people. House + Senate = Congress.

  • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

    He addressed that is one of the comments above.
    I think Congress is better spelled CONgress though. :-)

  • http://gravatar.com/michaelandjanemonson michaelandjanemonson

    Just like they are trying to do to us seniors trying to live on Social Security! They think they are saving money by using the CPI, and other means to try and screw the generation that has paid the most in! This is OUR money, jerks, not yours!

  • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)
  • Eric “Merf” Murphy

    I had been playing the Devil’s Advocate on this issue and trying to avoid allowing anger to cloud my vision and argument, but this backpedaling from Senator Patty Murray (a co-author for whom the original deal was named) is enough to enrage a saint. I don’t mind hard decisions, but I do mind political and personal cowardice.

    http://www.politico.com/story/2013/12/patty-murray-military-pension-cut-101313.html#ixzz2nwph6Fo7

    Merf

    • Tony Carr

      Merf — a quick apology for not paying more respect to the very thoughtful and important arguments you made on this thread. Like someone said earlier, I think if you lay my post down next to your inputs, we’ve got a pretty decent coverage of this issue and some quite provocative inputs for those who should be tending to this issue going forward. I was a$$holes and elbows finishing up my first semester of law school and could only break-lock occasionally to participate here, but please know that I desperately appreciate your contributions, and from the thread, it’s obvious others feel the same way.

      As for this last post of yours. Yeah…as a bunch of Senators engage in faux outrage and others pretend it was all just a glitch, it gets pretty tough to screen out the emotion. Enough to make the blood boil, especially coming from one of the chief architects of this clown show. I have a feeling we’ll see a swift repeal. I have it on decent authority there are some staffers working over the break on language for what will be a fairly bullet-proof repeal measure with broad and bi-partisan sponsorship. I hope this means the message was received that when the time comes to reform compensation, legislators (and the silent generals who abet them) will have to approach this high-aspect instead of trying stealth tactics. Veterans of stealth platforms know this…it’s an awesome tactic unless you get caught–then you’re just alone, unarmed, and isolated…twinges of how Patty Murray probably feels right now.

  • http://twitter.com/Figanootz Figanootz (@Figanootz)

    I’m really shocked at the lack of support for Veterans om this issue. Is it that is has shared the spotlight with Phil Robertson? Or is it that people just can;t empathize with our situation? In a society where only 1% of the population serves I don’t think that many people have any understanding of what it is like to serve in the military and what our lives are like.
    Maybe if we had a reality show? Then again that is a horrible idea. People would really get bent out of shape if they saw our lives raw and uncut. There would be hurt feelings reports everywhere.

    So, how do we get people to really understand the ramifications of what these cuts mean.

  • Anonymous

    TC & Merf – Excellent dialectic. The best I’ve read on the topic, and I’m so glad to have found it. You both have a new fan.

    One technical, but potentially large in value, addition to the comparison between REDUX & BBA:

    The 1% COLA reduction in BBA only applies between retirement (as early as 33 with TERA) and 62 before being reset and then follows inflation until death. With REDUX, however, independent of the different multiple, the 1% COLA reduction gets reset at 62 but then trails by 1% from 62 until death. I think that’s where the real downside of REDUX is, especially considering lengthening life expectancies, even if you serve 30.

    None of this is to assault the case of moral hazard here. I only mean to weaken the idea that this is just REDUX without the bonus. Or maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better having quickly filed my REDUX decline only two months ago :/

    Merf’s questions on benefit reform across all sectors are reasonable, but TC’s point is that even the defense sector in isolation could easily pay this bill through courageous leadership that includes restructure, better diplomacy, and fewer gizmos.

    • Tony Carr

      One of the fascinating but disheartening aspects of this budget is the way DoD has continued to advance the narrative of excessive personnel costs even as Congress has provided an opportunity for DoD to shift its footing. Either DoD is too politically obtuse to see this opening, or it really believes in the garbage it has been shoveling, perhaps because it has been shoveling it so forcefully and for so long. Before this sorry episode, DoD was in a box; Congress would not allow a BRAC or a Roles/Missions commission and has balked every time any service has tried to retire old weapons. No missions were taken off the table, but sequestration was levied regardless. This left DoD with one alternative: build the case that personnel costs were running away with the budget (an old trick tried many times in the past, sometimes with temporary success) in order to borrow enough money to avoid mission failure until sequestration was lifted. This budget relieved much of the pressure, and transferred the “people cost too much” narrative out of DoD and onto the doorstep of Congress. All that was left to do was for DoD to climb out of the box by gently nudging the discussion toward the Capitol to make Ryan and Murray the joint owners of the anti-troop/anti-pension narrative, and it would have been free to still get relief but force Congress to find $6B somewhere else. For whatever reason (I adhere to the theory of insufficient political courage), DoD did not take that approach, and in doing so betrayed its most important constituency.