On Wednesday the House is scheduled to vote on S. 540, the "Temporary Debt Limit Extension Act," which, in crucial part, will:
(1) suspends the debt limit until March 15, 2015, and preserves the ability of the Secretary to utilize extraordinary measures; (2) modifies the annual cost-of-living adjustment for working-age military retirees in the Ryan-Murray Budget deal so it only applies to service members who joined the Armed Services on or after January 1, 2014
This is not a hard vote. Every Republican should vote yes. The debt limit must be raised, and everyone in the country who knows anything about this issue knows it will be raised and before February 27. President Obama is praying that the GOP some how gums it up and allows a credit crisis to occur the blame for which he can affix to the GOP in a desperate attempt to change the subject from his many failures, especially Obamacare.
The must-pass law has got a second part --the repeal of the cut to military retirement benefits of career military.
The cut was sprung on an unsuspecting Congress in December when the Paul Ryan-Patty Murray budget negotiations were concluded. Many GOP Congressmen voted for it. Strike one.
As news of the cuts spread anger began to mount among veterans and their families and friends. The only cut the country could make was to the retirement benefits of the men and women who had fought the war since it began on 9/11, often through six, seven,even ten deployments, and years away from their families? The only $6 billion the Republicans would insist --absolutely insist-- on cutting would come out of the military's earned pay?
Politicians scrambled, and promises were mumbled about a fix in the spending bill overseen by House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers, which would actually make the cuts go away, find the money among the trillion dollars about to be allocated to reverse the hit on the career vets. (Again, this cut in retirement benefits only hit men and women who had served or would serve at least 20 years.)
But Hal Rogers didn't deliver. Strike two. Rogers did spend a trillion dollars, but not the 6 billion need to fix the Ryan mistake, instead cooking up a scheme to try and look like he cared about veterans by restoring cut retirement benefits only to veterans who had been seriously wounded in the war, but not to the men and women who had served alongside the wounded soldier, at least as long as he or she had. Whatever Rogers expected, all he got was a reputation for being tricky and anti-veteran.
The anger continued to mount --spiral really. A Twitter hashtag #KeepYourPromise was born and traveled across the platform, linking everyone who insists that the Congress restore that which was earned by the career military. On Monday, a Senate suddenly united by the fierce anger of the military community and their friends voted 94-0 to advance repeal of the cut to the retirement benefits of the career military. Republicans and Democrats alike in the upper chamber had gotten the message, thanks to the good work of people like New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte and South Carolina's Lindsey Graham. Hypocrites like Arkansas Mark Pryor decided to be against the cuts to career military retirement benefits after he was for them, but a flip flop is better than a sellout of the warriors who have waved good bye to loved ones so often over so many years to go off to fight dangerous wars.
Now House Republicans get a third swing. On Wednesday. By voting "yes" on S. 540, the two-strikers can redeem themselves . Some GOPers have already announced they intend to strike out, that the symbolism of voting for a debt limit that will pass anyway is too high a price to pay to restore the cut to the retirement benefits of the career military that they should never have voted for in the first place.
Some are hoping they can bluff the leadership into pulling the bill from the floor, but Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Whip Kevin McCarthy have to let the chips fall where they will. If they pull the bill they are complicit --again-- in the third collective kick in the groin of the career American military.
The GOP base deserves clarity about the priorities of every member of the caucus. the clarity provided by this vote will matter in the primaries ahead this year and in the future, in the leadership battles ahead, in the middle and long-distance future. This vote is one that will leave a mark, not just a hashtag. People won't forget, and not just those in uniform, their spouses, children, parents and friends. Anyone with a conscience who knows what the military has sacrificed over the past dozen years shakes their head in amazement that the claw-back of benefits came first not from wealthy Medicare recipients, or to Social Security COLAs, but out of the earned --earned-- retirement benefits of men and women who have spent three, four, five total years in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past 12, moved they families a half dozen times, missed whole sets of birthdays and holidays, deaths and first dates. Just go Google "images" for "troops departing" and see what comes up. Then tell me again they didn't earn their retirement over 20 years.
Just incredible. I cannot imagine every inviting a three striker back on my program. Yeah, I know. Hardly the sort of thing that worries a big office Congressman in a safe district with a guarantee of K Street employment down the road. But just one measure of my dismay at the trifling with the lives of this class of citizen. Those who ought to receive the best treatment, the most thoughtful assessments and specific and sincere thanks get treated as afterthoughts and voting blocks too small too matter.
Note the moral judgment of the Member that would sacrifice repeal of the cut to the retirement benefits of the career military in favor of a symbolic vote on the debt limit that few if any care about or will recall, a wholly symbolic vote with regard to the debt but one with real consequences to the veterans already injured by strikes one and two.
"We will fix that later," some of the hedge-men are saying, the folks who want to be for everything and don't want anyone mad at them. Sorry, Charlie, kick the military three times in the groin, or cold cock them triple time, or use three knives in the back --the effect is the same. Don't expect people to cheer you when you come along and try to make nice later. The ball is in front of you. Hit it now, or sit down and shut up about it, owning your genuine indifference to the military families you are manifesting. Spare us the excuses. If you chose to screw the military, at least don't complain about how these warriors ought to understand the tough predicament you find yourself in at home with the six goofballs who think you should have shut down the credit completely with a magic wand.
Yeah, we know. You have nutty constituents. But career military aren't nutty constituents. You laid out the terms of their service. They accepted the service with all its difficulties and sacrifices. They don't complain. Then you changed the rules. These aren't nutty constituents. These are screwed warriors and the families they love. Big difference.
It was Ryan's mistake that metastasized into Roger's fiasco which is now on the brink of becoming a Boehner-Cantor-McCarthy catastrophe if they either pull or or fail to pass S. 540.
So GOP members should do the right thing and pass it. Wednesday. Then get back to winning the Senate by focusing the energies of the House on the failures of the president at home and abroad and thus winning the 2014 elections and then fixing the debt, and even reforming military pay and benefits --prospectively-- if indeed they need to be fixed.
There's also a larger lessen here about surprising your core supporters with genuinely terrible ideas and then being shocked when they vomit those ideas back out. We have seen this before. Somehow some in the GOP got it into their heads that they could cut the home mortgage interest deduction or the charitable deduction, or state income tax deduction without having heavy fire rom the base returned. Manhattan-Beltway elites tend to lose touch with voters even if they get home for a hunting trip every few weeks. Nobody wants any of that, and nobody but nobody wants to screw the guys who fought the war.
For $6 billion dollars. It was a blunder to think within the confines of some small conference room full of nodding staffers that this made sense, and then sheer stupidity in another conference room to be cute about its fix. Now it will be sheer stupidity squared to be stubborn in defense of the blunder-covered-by-a-trick. The only ones who get a free pass to vote against the vets are the guys and gals headed to the retirement door. They can flip the vets off --they are finished anyway-- but no one else who ever hopes to count on a vet vote (or a vote from their spouse, their parents, their golf buddies, their church community.) NB: My buddy Mark is a retired Lt. Colonel, not yet eligible for the age 62 safe harbor offered by Ryan, and thus hit by this Ryan-Rogers rick roll. He went back to Iraq as a ROAD --"retired on active duty"-- to serve in the Green Zone for a year in his 50s after years of retirement and a regimen of lipitor. To serve. His daughter has made four deployments, his son-in-law five and his son William is headed off to Afghanistan on deployment six this month or next. Lots of people know their story. Anyone who knows such a family knows what the Congress has done is wrong, even if they are all civilians.
We had Major Tim in our house for Super Bowl Sunday, A Marine Major, a reservist, called up and headed off --yesterday-- to Afghanistan, leaving his wife and three kids in Missouri for many, many months. Odd to watch that Super Bowl Bud commercial about a soldier coming home while sitting next to a Marine about to leave, but he didn't complain. My experience is that the military rarely complains, even when the Congress knocks them in the back of a head with a baseball bat three times in a way that no private sector company could dream of doing without lawsuits and settlements stretching beyond the horizon.
No conservative breaks contracts he or she doesn't have to break. Period.
No conservative weakens the career military's confidence in the civilian leadership's commitments to the troops.
No conservative sows doubt among the men and women of the military that their pay and benefits are in the pot to be drained when pork has to be spread among civilians takers.
So a "yes" vote on S. 540 is an easy vote is an easy vote for real conservatives. I will let you know in Thursday's column who stood with the career military and who voted to screw them. Again.