The federal budget, Part Deux

Quick follow up from last week …  As most of you probably know, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Ryan-Murray budget agreement before we broke for the holidays.

I voted “no” on the budget and I laid out my reasons for doing so in that week’s  Situation Report (SITREP).

For those of you who missed that installment of the SITREP, I voted against the budget deal because it dramatically cut the pensions of all retired military men and women under the age of 62.

To make matters worse, in my opinion, the same people who negotiated that budget deal spent the days following its passage shedding crocodile tears and vowing to “fix” their mistake.

Budget appropriations bill

Fast-forward to this past week when Congress took up the accompanying appropriations bill, which funds the actual line item categories that were laid out in that budget agreement.

The appropriations bill that passed this week did a number of positive things. But, frankly, in a 1,200-plus page bill that’s worth more than $1.1 trillion, there had better be some positive things to point to (and I’ll touch on a few of those in a moment).

But first and foremost, one of the provisions that was the most important to me was the temporary restoration of some of the pension cuts for retired military – specifically the cuts to survivor benefits and those who were injured during service and forced to retire because of a medical issue.

That, as you may recall, was the breaking point for me on the budget vote.

However, most of the military pension cuts were left intact and I was still faced with the basic question of whether I could continue to look our service members in the eye and tell them that I’d done all I could to advocate for them. At the end of the day, when the Pentagon itself is out there pushing for pay cuts for active-duty military, healthcare premium and fee increases for their families, and pension cuts for those who have devoted their careers to defending this nation, who exactly is there defending these individuals?

In the end, I voted against the appropriations bill for the same reason I voted against the budget deal.

In my opinion, I don’t think having a bunch of us politicians stand up and tell the troops, “We owe you a debt that can never be repaid., and then turn around and take away the pension offer we promised them is sending the right message. Our military is an all-volunteer force. Nobody made them go out there and risk life and limb for us. They did that on their own.

Our end of the bargain as a nation – at a minimum – is to follow through on the promises we made. If pension formulas need to be adjusted for new folks coming in, then that’s an honest conversation you can have with those recruits. They are grown men and women who can make their own decisions and can do so with their eyes open.

But as a nation, we don’t break promises that have already been made to our troops. It’s not just about the dollars, it’s about the principle.

Some good news

Now, I said at the outset that there were some positive provisions in the appropriations bill, and I want to make sure you know about some of them.

Our discretionary spending levels are now back to where they were when President Bush left office. That’s no small feat considering the massive increases that started immediately after President Obama came in.

In this bill, foreign aid has been cut – not as much as I’d like, but cut nonetheless. The IRS has been cut, and slush funds cut off. Agencies across the federal government are having to make tough choices and find efficiencies that they haven’t been forced to find in decades.

In the end, on this one, it was a matter of principle.

I couldn’t honestly cast a vote that said, “this is the best we can do here”. Restoring some of the cuts to our military retirees was an important step, and I’m grateful that they did that. And I remain hopeful that the Armed Services and Budget Committees can find the resources necessary to pay for reversing the rest of the cuts. But on this bill, I think we could have done better and we didn’t live up to that responsibility. That’s just where I stand.

But as always, it’s helpful for me to hear where you all stand – agree or disagree. I can’t do this job in a vacuum. I’m here to represent each and every one of you and each and every one of you has a right to weigh in. So if you have some time, please drop me a line and let me know your feelings – on this or any other issues we’re facing.

Thanks again, and have a safe and restful weekend.