Every Military Pension Is Sacred, Every Military Pension Is Good

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 15 2014 8:56 AM

Every Military Pension Is Sacred, Every Military Pension Is Good

Covering a story as big as the omnibus spending bill presents a challenge. It's big, yes, and undoubtedly important—arguably more important than the temporary George Washington Bridge closures of September 2012. But the bigness of the thing allows legislators to hide or obscure policy changes, and this one undoes part of one of the only spending reforms promoted by the 2013 budget. Those tough-but-fair 0.25 percent cost-of-living-adjustment cuts to military pensions? Gone for some service veterans, on the way out for the rest.

A reader writes in to debate my premise:

I think you misunderstand the basis of the outrage.  The outrage isn't over the fact that we had our pensions cut.  I don't think you would get any argument from anyone that we need to reign in personnel costs to ensure they are sustainable.  The issue was the retroactive nature of the cuts.  Let's say for sake of argument that you agree to work for a company for a certain compensation.  You fulfill your end of the bargain, put in the 40 hour week, and when it comes to pay day, the owner says, sorry I promised you too much, I can't pay you.  In the civilian world, this is called breach of contract, and it's illegal.  
The other issue, is that  unionized federal civilian employees were also hit, HOWEVER, it was not made retroactive, all current employees were grandfathered in, and it only affected new hires.  IF Congress had acted in this manner, and made it ONLY for future employees, and NOT for people who had already abided their end of the bargain, I think you would have seen much less outrage.  As it is, when Congress allows illegal aliens to continue to file tax returns and claim $20 billion in tax credits, and cuts veterans pensions(including wounded vets and widows) in the same breath, you can see (or at least I would hope you can) where the cycnicism and outrage is being generated.

I see his point, and don't dispute (here or in the piece) that the cuts to military pensions are painful. But there was a time, a time no one is nostalgiac for, when necessary pain was supposed to solve the long-term budget deficit. And that's no longer the case. It just feels like one of those moments of shifting sensibilities and priorities.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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