Local Views: Sensible budget deal asks small sacrifice of military retirees

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Jan Deters
Friday, January 3, 2014

“It's a step in the right direction.” You've heard Congressman Paul Ryan of Janesville repeat this statement over and over again these past weeks. “It's not as far as I want to go, but it's a step in the right direction,” he continues to say.

Nonsupporters of the Bipartisan Budget Act say the bill does not go far enough in spending cuts and that borrowing will continue to rise. The Bipartisan Budget Act does not solve all the problems, but it prevents another government shutdown for two years and does not increase taxes. In response to his critics, Ryan said in an interview with Chris Wallace on Dec. 15, “We are making permanent law changes and permanent spending cuts, and those savings accrue and accumulate and compound over time.”

Congressman Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., knew going into their negotiations that they would not be able to agree on everything, nor would they be able to solve all the problems. Remarkably in the short timeframe available to them, they were able to draft a bill that overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support. Finally we are seeing negotiations between the two parties resulting in a positive direction.

Considerable attention has been given to a portion of this bill—the reduction of COLAs (cost-of-living adjustment) for working-age military retirees. Unfortunately the attention and media reports coming out on the reduction to COLAs has been filled with incomplete and misinformation that distorts the truth.

The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission was established by Congress in 2012 with the task of examining the entire military compensation system. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has also stated that military compensation reform can no longer be put off. Without reform, troop modernization and readiness could be put at risk.

The Bipartisan Budget Act makes a small adjustment to younger retirees. Their annual increase will be 1 percent less than the inflation rate. These are individuals who are probably retiring from the military in their late 30s or early 40s and seeking other employment opportunities. Upon reaching age 62, their COLAs are readjusted to where they would have been if they had received the full inflation adjustment every year since their retirement. Those retirees already age 62 or older will see no changes to their benefits. The medically retired and those on survivor benefits are also excluded from any adjustments. The savings from these adjustments would go right back to the military.

Something must be done, and this is a very modest proposal compared to those who want to eliminate the adjustment for inflation for working-age retirees.

The reforms on COLAs in the Bipartisan Budget Act are not effective until 2015, which gives time for the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to give its recommendations this May and for any other alternatives to be introduced before then.

The Bipartisan Budget Act is a huge step in bipartisan negotiating and agreements. Thank you, Congressman Paul Ryan, for once again demonstrating your leadership.

Jan Deters of Janesville is first vice chairwoman of the 1st Congressional District Republican Party. Readers can contact her by email at jan.deters@charter.net.

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