Most decisions made by politicians impact our lives in ways that are almost invisible.
Last month, just before Christmas, both the US House of Representatives and the US Senate, made a decision that wasn’t so invisible for my family and for many of my friends. Congress decided that the retiree pension for military service members serving 20 or more years could be cut in order to save the federal government $6 billion over ten years.
Would you like to know what $6 billion buy? The 2012 elections. That’s right, politicians spent $6 billion in a single year just so they could get elected.
For military families, that same money is invested in education for children entering college or for spouses and service members looking to improve their job prospects with college classes; it serves as the monthly mortgage payment in the first home that many military families have ever been able to buy; it might be the beginning of a small business back home, a place that has called to them over the years; and for some, that money keeps them afloat while they look for a job in an increasingly difficult economy. That same $6 billion spread over thousands of families is a life changing amount of money.
Our government takes in $6 billion every day. And because our Congress has been unable to balance a budget, military families are being asked to pay.
There are several ways to make cuts to our budget but the problem is that neither Republicans nor Democrats can agree on the appropriate way to do so. Republicans traditionally want to cut from the social safety net – Social Security, Medicare, and Welfare. Democrats traditionally want to cut from Defense. In order to find compromise, they look for those places that will hurt both sides.
I am neither a Republican nor a Democrat. And I hate that both sides seem stuck in arguments that are old and outdated.
As a military wife, I see the benefit of having a strong military. However, we are no longer as strong as we used to be because we are carrying around dead weight. We have weapons systems that should have been retired long ago. Take, for example, nuclear weapons. There are very few Americans that could ever imagine turning to nuclear weapons as a solution in any modern war. They are unusable in the vast majority of circumstances. Yet we are projected to spend between $620 billion and $661 billion on nukes over the next 10 years. That’s more than 100 times the amount of money saved by cutting military pensions. And we’re spending them on weapons that are highly unlikely to be used in any modern war.
If you think nuclear weapons are too big an item to tackle, how about something much smaller, like an Abrams Tank? Congress is spending money on tanks that the Army does not want. Cutting the program would save a small amount of money but it would mean that Ohio would lose a tank plant. Rep. Jim Jordan claims that “The one area where we are supposed to spend taxpayer money is in defense of the country.” Yet if the Army doesn’t want these tanks, how are we helping the defense of the country? Aren’t we in fact hurting it by spending defense dollars in places where they are neither needed nor wanted by the Department of Defense? What Rep. Jordan wants is jobs to stay in his community. And I applaud that. But he needs to look for jobs that help our country, not that amount to corporate welfare.
And it isn’t just Congress making poor budgetary decisions. Many along the military chain of command make poor choices when it comes to spending our tax dollars. There are multiple reasons for this but the greatest may be that if a unit doesn’t spend their funds one year, they’ll be reduced the next. This form of budgeting encourages every unit to spend every dollar they are given whether that dollar was needed in that year or not. To make it worse, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service enables this last minute spending by fudging numbers making it nearly impossible to learn which last minute expenditures were wasteful and which were useful.
Why does this matter? You see, there is a chance that Congress will waive the cuts to military pensions with a new bill. The problem at this moment is that seven such bills exist and all of them are looking to replace the pension cuts with items that are palatable to Congress. But we’ve seen this before. Congress can’t agree on diddly-squat most days.
The truth is, Congress made a huge mistake over twelve years ago and they’re suffering for it today. When we chose to declare war on Afghanistan, we should have figured out how to pay for the war at that point in time. When we chose to declare war on Iraq, we should have figured out how to pay for that war as well. But neither the President nor Congress chose to tackle the huge costs of war when the American people may have voluntarily helped pay for one. Instead, they have waited until the vast majority of Americans are sick and tired of war and no longer want to hear about it at all. There is no way the American people would consider paying more in taxes today to pay for wars we started over 12 years ago.
Unfortunately, we have a lot of bills coming due. Because of the wars, we have more injured veterans that need care meaning that the Department of Veterans Affairs will need more funding. We have more retirees that are expecting their promised health care and pensions. And Congress is playing a dangerous game with us… they are testing the waters to see if the American people will even notice this small cut so that they can come back and cut more at a later date.
So how about it? How do you think Congress should pay for two wars? Do you believe that it should be paid for by the very people who physically fought the wars and their families? Or should Americans find a way to come together and fix this?