Senate Committee Encourages Deficit Panel to Look at Military Benefits
In warning the congressional deficit reduction committee last week against paring the Pentagon’s discretionary budget beyond the $450 billion in cuts already called for under August’s debt ceiling agreement, the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee echoed a similar theme as their House counterparts.
In a break from the recommendations of the House Armed Services Committee leaders, though, Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) broached the need to consider trimming military health and retirement benefits. In separate letters, the two lawmakers offered similar recommendations to reduce the cost of TRICARE by raising annual fees and considering changes to the structure of pharmacy co-payments.
They also supported President Obama’s proposal to establish a commission to review retirement benefits and recommended the panel’s scope be expanded to consider changes to the military compensation system. For Levin, such an examination would look at basic pay, allowances including the one for housing, special and incentive pay, health care and the tax treatment of various components of military compensation.
At the same time, Levin and McCain endorsed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s pledge to “grandfather” current service members and retirees so their current or anticipated retirement benefits are not cut.
Perhaps the most far-reaching recommendation was McCain’s suggestion for the deficit committee to restore fiscal discipline and rein in pork-barrel spending: “I believe you should seek to restore responsible spending on the part of Congress by requiring each appropriations line item be authorized by the relevant authorization committee charged by Congress to provide oversight of that agency’s activities and programs.”