Paygo follies: guess who doesn't have to "pay" for their benefits?
Back when everyone was high giving the Ryan-Murray grown up budget last month, I noted that it was unlikely that the military pension cuts would stick, while it was obvious that the cuts to federal employee pensions would. The military is sacred to politicians in both parties and very few of them would be willing to fight the veterans groups.
But this is even more sickeningly unfair than I thought. I'm sure you've noticed all the garment rending among the Republicans in recent days over the need to "pay for" any spending with cuts to other programs, even unemployment benefits which have never, until very recently, been subject to pay-go rules. Well look at the exception Dday dug up:
The budget deal authorized a baseline level of spending, but did not appropriate specific dollar amounts to federal agencies. So House and Senate negotiators on the respective Appropriations Committees did that work, and yesterday reached a deal on an “omnibus” bill to fund all facets of the government for the rest of the fiscal year.
Which brings us to Page 364 of that 1,582-page omnibus bill. It comes under Title X of the section on the Defense Department, labeled “Military Disability Retirement and Survivor Benefit Annuity Restoration.” In other words, appropriators reversed the military pension cut, but only for disability and survivor benefits. (Murray and Ryan agreed to roll back this measure, which they claimed was inadvertent, earlier this year.) This is seen as about 10 percent of the overall savings from the pension changes, a fairly infinitesimal $600 million in a country with an annual budget in the trillions.
But what should gall people is subsection (d) on Page 364. “Exclusion of budgetary effects from paygo scorecards,” it reads, adding, “The budgetary effects of this section shall not be entered on either PAYGO scorecard maintained pursuant to section 4(d) of the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010.”
Translating from Congress-ese, this refers to a federal “paygo” law requiring any non-emergency spending to be offset with some budgetary savings of equal value, either through spending cuts or revenue increases. According to this subsection, the restoration of those particular military pension cuts doesn’t have to be scored in this fashion, meaning no offset is required.
So, not only did they slash the living hell out of federal employees pensions while restoring the "equal cuts" to military pensions, unlike every other restoration of funding under the Ryan-Murray grown-up plan, they also ensured that the restoration of those cuts were not required to be "paid for" with cuts somewhere else. How nice.
Going all the way back to the original sequestration deal it has been obvious that the silly notion of "defense cuts" equal to cuts to discretionary spending was a joke. Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense in the Obama administration, went on TV and said so. And the reason is that, unlike food stamps or Head Start or Meals on Wheels, protecting defense contractors and military retirees is a bipartisan priority, which means the whole premise of the "sequester" was absurd from the beginning. The Democrats would fight to restore the military cuts and the discretionary cuts while the Republicans would only fight to restore the military cuts. Gosh, I wonder what would happen?
As Dday points out in his piece, this isn't a huge deal on a budgetary basis. And yes, the Republicans are revealed to be big fat hypocrites as usual. But the lesson should be obvious: the military is exempt from the rules governing the rest of our austerity program. Anyone who ever thought otherwise (that the Tea Party is a bunch of hippies who just want to give peace a chance, for instance) needs to take a closer look at the way the right --- and the center --- thinks about the military.