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Tripling priorities

Congress is wallowing in the mud, tacking on pet projects at a rate that represents a tripling of pork over the past 10 years, according to figures from the Congressional Research Service.

SOURCE: Congressional Research Service | GRAPHIC: The Washington Post – January 27, 2006

Yet look at this — Bush is going to try to slip this through this GOP-run, sleazy, oinking Congress. (Army Times):

A Pentagon proposal that could triple some Tricare insurance costs for military retirees and their families is drawing sharp criticism from military advocacy groups and members of Congress.

The plan, being considered as part of the 2007 budget request to be unveiled Feb. 6, would increase Tricare fees for retirees under age 65 beginning Oct. 1. Increases would be substantial — as much as $1,200 more a year by 2009 — with no end in sight because the plan calls for annual rate hikes in 2010 and beyond that would match inflation.

Defense Department officials confirmed that Tricare fees were being considered as part of the 2007 budget, but would not discuss any details until the White House releases the federal budget plan. Senior Pentagon leaders, both military and civilian, know their plan will meet with stiff opposition and are trying to prepare a united front, defense sources said. The Joint Chiefs are considering sending a rare joint letter to Congress explaining why the fee increases are important because they do not see how the military can afford needed weapons programs if soaring health care costs remain unchecked, sources said.

A key element of the proposal is to discourage retirees from using the military medical system if they have other options, such as insurance through a post-service employer, because this would generate savings far greater than any money raised through higher enrollment fees.

This is wrong on so many levels,” said Steve Strobridge, government relations director for the Military Officers Association of America. “In the middle of a war, with troops and families vastly overstressed, recruiting already in the toilet, and retention at risk, the Defense Department wants to pay for weapons by cutting manpower and trying to cut career military benefits by $1,000 a year or more? That’s just flat unconscionable. Not only is it grossly unfair to the people, but it poses terrible risks for long-term retention and readiness.”

Why does Bush hate our men and women in uniform?

Some folks on the Hill want to know. Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader, along with Steny Hoyer, House Democratic Whip, James Clyburn, Democratic Caucus Chairman, Lane Evans, Veterans Affairs Committee, ranking member, Ike Skelton, Armed Services Committee, ranking member, John Spratt, Budget Committee, ranking member, and Chet Edwards, Veterans Affairs Appropriations, subcommittee ranking member fired off a letter to Dear Leader, basically asking him that question. (U.S. Newswire):

It is unconscionable that you would even consider a fee increase on the men and women in uniform who bravely sacrificed for our country, especially during a time of war. We must demonstrate our commitment to our troops and future veterans by assuring them that just as they protected us, we will take care of them when their service ends.

Not only is this premium increase unfair to the military retirees who have given 20-30 years of service and sacrifice, it will not help maintain our military strength. A report released today by the National Security Advisory Group identified serious problems in military recruiting and retention. (Copy enclosed) Cutting health care benefits for our nation’s veterans will only exacerbate this current problem.

We urge that, in your State of the Union Address, you disavow these reports and state forthrightly that in the budget you submit to Congress next month, adequate resources will be allocated for health care for both veterans and military retirees. That is necessary to clearly and unambiguously set forth a national policy of respecting and preserving all health care benefits earned by those who have served. Your Administration must not shift additional costs upon veterans or military retirees. Anything less is would be a national disgrace and constitute a pointed rebuke to those who served and have earned those benefits.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding