The Pentagon is planning cuts to the defense budget that are causing controversy on Capitol Hill, the New York Times reports.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel plans to shrink the United States Army to its smallest force since before the World War II buildup and eliminate an entire class of Air Force attack jets in a new spending proposal that officials describe as the first Pentagon budget to aggressively push the military off the war footing adopted after the terror attacks of 2001.
…The proposals are certain to face resistance from interest groups like veterans’ organizations, which oppose efforts to rein in personnel costs; arms manufacturers that want to reverse weapons cuts; and some members of Congress who will seek to block base closings in their districts.
Such proposals always get the defense industry lobbyists on Capitol Hill reeling. The notion that big corporations manufacturing death machines will stop getting paid exorbitant amounts of taxpayer cash for weapons systems that military officials say they don’t even want or need is appalling to them, parasites that they are.
But, according to an NPR report this morning, “the part of the Pentagon’s plan that might get the sharpest reaction is the military’s suggestions for ways to reduce the growth in spending on pay and benefits.”
…Pentagon officials warn that those costs “are eating us alive.” The average annual cost of pay and benefits for each active duty member of the military, for instance, has risen from about $54,000 a decade ago to $110,000 now, he said. The costs of health insurance and other benefits for retirees are also soaring.
The bloated salaries and benefits for the military, according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey, “will become a crisis.” One official told NPR that the Pentagon is essentially becoming “a benefits organization that occasionally kills a terrorist.”
In a 2012 piece for Foreign Policy, Rosa Brooks – whose husband is a career Army officer – lamented America’s “socialist military” and criticized the fact that “the average member of the military is paid better than 75 percent of civilian federal workers with comparable experience.” Members of the military and their families, she wrote, get “America’s most generous” and “arguably unsustainable” benefits programs.
As the spouse of a career Army officer, I’m stunned by the range of available benefits. Health care? Free! Groceries? Military commissaries save military families roughly 30 percent over shopping in civilian stores. Education benefits? Career personnel can expect the military to finance additional higher education, and the post-9/11 GI Bill provides up to 36 months of benefits to veterans, amounting, in effect, to full tuition and fees for four academic years. (The education benefit is also transferable to dependents.)
Housing? Free on base and subsidized off-base (the housing allowance goes up with family size: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need). Pensions? After 20 years of service, military personnel can retire and immediately begin to receive, at the ripe old age of 40 or so, an annual pension equal to half their salary — for the rest of their lives. Anyone who thinks socialism failed in America has never spent time on a military base.
Cutting expensive and unnecessary weapons systems cuts to the heart of the nuts and bolts of rent-seeking politics in Washington. But cutting veterans benefits becomes an emotional issue for people, and thus may be very difficult to get past Congress.
These benefits are inordinate, unfair, and unsustainable. Military service is endlessly praised as the ultimate sacrifice for the country. But when you strip away the propagandistic state doctrine, military service is simply a commitment to kill strangers on the orders of politicians in Washington. I can’t for the life of me figure out why that deserves such disproportionate financial benefits.