Two weeks from today, House Republicans will travel to the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina in Cambridge, MD in an attempt to plan their legislative year and of course a strategy for maintaining their majority.
They will do so after 64 of their number refused Wednesday to vote for the "omnibus" $1.1 trillion dollar spending bill, the broad outlines of which were hammered out with Senate Democrats by Wisconsin's Paul Ryan but the details of which were the work of Kentucky's Hal Rogers who chairs the Appropriations Committee. Many of the "no" votes came from fiscal hawks, but a few came from members outraged that their party would break faith with the men and women who have been fighting the war for a dozen years. These members refused to throw the military under the omnibus. Most House GOP members didn't blink from doing so.
The bill included a cut to the retirement pay of career military, earned only if the individual soldier, sailor, airman or Marine had served at least 20 years, and the cut is big. A master sergeant or a senior chief --the sort of NCOs who are the backbone of the military-- were penalized by between $80,000 and $100,000 over the next 20 years if they retire in 2016 at, say, age 45 after 25 years of service. These men and women will have deployed four to seven times during the war, will have often have had their families moved a double-digit number of times over their minimum 20 years of duty, their spouses will have had most chances at a career disrupted, and they will have missed untold numbers of births, birthdays, Christmases, school recitals and all the other things Americans take for granted. Somehow the GOP decided this was the only group to target in the omnibus just before they went on their "retreat." The. Only. Group.
Worse yet, Maryland Democrat Chris Van Holland charged on Larry O'Connor's morning radio show in D.C. that the GOP negotiators came up with the cut to career military retirement in order to protect agriculture subsidies. No answer yet to that charge, but whether it is ever refuted the bill's effects on the career military won't be, nor the aftermath in which a "giddy" Chairman Rogers gloated over a bill that slams military families and their sacrifices. From Roll Call:
Rogers said the fiscal 2015 appropriations cycle will soon get under way, but first he’s giving his staff their overdue “Christmas vacation,” as most appropriations aides had to work through the holiday season to meet the mid-January deadline to avert a government shutdown.
First, and just for now, he just wants to savor the moment.
“I’m not a sentimentalist,” Rogers mused. “This won’t last too long. But it’s nice to smell the roses, at least for a day.”
Imagine that, an "overdue vacation" for congressional staffers who had to work hard during the holidays. I wonder how that is going over with the family of a service member deployed in Afghanistan right now and coming home to this slash in his or her earned retirement? There is a good chance that these men and women will say the omnibus deal smells very different than roses to them. There is an even better chance that the GOP has lost much of its credibility as the "party of defense," at least for those who voted for this outrage. I hope the veterans of Kentucky's many military facilities and families know that one of their delegation own sold them out, screwed them over royally, and then proclaimed himself "giddy." Hal Rogers to the career military: "Thanks for your service. Let me steal your retirement funds."
How did the GOP end up betraying the military? The same way it may end up screwing core constituencies on immigration and "tax reform."
Both immigration and tax reform are said to be on the agenda for the upcoming House retreat. Lame duck Ways and Means Chair David Camp is going to try --again-- to persuade House GOP members that their voters back home really really want to give up their home mortgage deduction and charitable deductions even though no one --no one-- has ever campaigned on that plan as the centerpiece of their bids for Congress. Camp wants to impose it on voters as "good for them" when all voters want is for government to be cut and to kill off Obamacare. Camp and his team wasted a year and many opportunities to get rid of the terrible Medical Device Tax, choosing instead to "negotiate" endlessly with Democratic Senator Max Baucus in the hopes of a grand deal, and now Baucus is off to China, a "grand bargain" is deader than HealthCare.gov on October 1 of last year, and the House GOP is in the ditch with zero accomplishments from last year. Still Camp pushes on, humming "Impossible Dream," and chewing up valuable time and energy. GOP voters certainly didn't send their members to D.C. to punish the military but the GOP punished the military. Don't be surprised if this caucus leadership decides to punish homeowners and charities next.
Immigration is also on the agenda foe the House GOP retreat. On immigration, the vast majority of GOPers don't want to pour resources into finding and deporting illegal immigrants. The vast majority would support regularization of all but the criminal element among illegal aliens but the vast majority --the vast majority-- want a long strong, double-sided fenceas an obvious irreversible commitment to stopping the problem of unchecked immigration from happening again. Again and again conservatives applaud the "long, strong, high fence" rhetoric and again and again they are told they are wrong, that such a fence isn't needed, it won't work, and to shut up and sit down. "Interior enforcement" and "high tech fence" gets substituted for what the voters actually want. D.C. elites have their own set of solutions in mind, never mind that they aren't what the grassroots want and that those solutions will in fact enrage the grassroots, even as the slam on career military has angered the friends and families of the career military. The GOP seems intent on reducing the number of their core supporters with each passing week.
How to explain this? How can the House GOP get the military pensions decision so wrong, the tax issue so wrong, the border fence so wrong?
Why, in a phrase, are they so stone-cold deaf to what 90% of their core constituents and activists want?
Answers in a future column, but for now find and communicate with your GOP representative. Tell them what you think should be on their agenda for their retreat, and that it had better not be pollsters and consultants, which have provided many hours of front-of-the-room fun in the past.
Dennis Prager and I once shared a stage at this event. We were on after the pollsters, having been invited by the now Governor of Indiana Mike Pence at the suggestion of now retired former Chair of House Rules David Dreier, who always worked hard to stay in touch with conservatives even as they occasionally blasted him.
I used my time then to tell the GOP caucus what well-intentioned but terrible communicators they were, how they didn't make use of cable television appearances, talk radio or social media in the right way, etc. I did so in the hope they would change and flourish.
I haven't been invited back. Those really, really sharp pollsters no doubt have been. They no doubt advised that it is ok to screw the career military, ignore the border fence issue, and target homeowners and charities for big tax hikes while pretending to cut taxes.
Yeah, that's the ticket. My suggestion to Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers: Invite Mark Steyn and Mark Levin to address the gathering and get a big gulp of what really drives conservatives right now. Light up the room. Risky but well worth it. Have the courage to confront critics of the mess the caucus has become.
Invite Charles Krauthammer to find out what Members of Congress should be thinking about as the world spins further and further out-of-control.
Invite Guy P. Benson and Mary Katharine Ham to get a glimpse of what the 30 and under conservatives think of their antics. Any of these five would be a dose of much needed fresh air to a group closed off from the grassroots that sent them to D.C. There are many others.
Oh, and invite say, a military spouse like Jen Pilcher from MilitaryOneClick.com. That would take real guts to look such a military spouse in the eye after cutting their families' future financial security.
Don't count on it. Closed system. Closed minds. Different planet. Planet Beltway.