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The Bowles-Simpson Outline to Cut Pay and Raise Health Care Costs for Soldiers

This post has been published at 11:00 on the 11th day on the 11th month. Happy Armistice Day.

And so to tie it in with the theme, let’s look at one part of the deficit commission co-chair’s mark, their cuts to the military budget, about $100 billion in annual savings. The Bowles-Simpson report walls off defense spending from other discretionary spending in such a way that a cut to a domestic program could not be used to reduce cuts in the military budget. And some of the trims are legitimate and probably the best practice.

The Marines get hit hard. Their V-22 Osprey helicopter? Gone. Their swimming tank, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle — the one that the Senate recently criticized for cost overruns? Gone. Its version of the F-35 fighter jet? Gone. Oh, and the commission echoes Gates in questioning whether the country needs the service to storm beaches anymore. Happy 235rd birthday, guys!

It’s not just the Marines. The Army may be about to announce a new design for its planned Ground Combat Vehicle, the truck it wants to replace the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, but the co-chairmen say not to bother: “wartime funding enabled the Army to upgrade its current tactical vehicle fleet earlier than anticipated,” so it’s not necessary. The Air Force and the Navy can make do with F-16s and FA-18 Super Hornet jets rather than half of the troubled F-35s they wanted to buy. All in all, the commission thinks it can save $20 billion annually with these and other cuts.

These are the kind of cuts that Don Rumsfeld is railing against, to outdated and unnecessary weapons systems. But it’s only 20% of the prescribed haul. So how do they get to the $100 billion figure?

In one trim, they reduce military personnel stationed at overseas bases in Europe and Asia by one-third. That’s probably just a start on what can be reduced with no real effect on military readiness. But that’s just another $8.5 billion. So how about the rest?

It’s laid out right here. They freeze the salaries of civilian personnel at the Pentagon. They freeze pay for noncombat soldiers. They “modernize” TRICARE, the military’s health care program, by raising premiums, enrollment fees and co-pays, and kicking TRICARE-eligible recipients off coverage if they have employers who can offer it to them. In a separate budget cut, they would add co-pays to Veterans Administration health care. They would cut spending on facilities maintenance, in the buildings where military families live and work. And they would eliminate schools on military bases for the children of soldiers, moving them into the general school population (because it’s so easy for kids who move every year to integrate into public schools).

I just want to mention again that it’s Veterans Day. On this day as we pause to remember our soldiers, airmen, midshipmen and Marines, remember that Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson want those men and women to get paid less, spend more for their health care and have their houses and workspaces left to rot. There are a lot of decent ways to reduce the military budget, some of them outlined in the Bowles-Simpson draft. But making the enlisted men bear the great burden of that is unconscionable.

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Happy Veterans Day!

David Dayen

David Dayen