Will GOP Back Benefit Cuts on Military Retirees?

March 15th, 2011 at 8:21 am David Frum | 19 Comments |

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The teachers must be wishing they wore uniforms.

Governors across the country are reacting to deficits by cutting – or trying to cut – the generosity of public employee healthcare benefits.

Now similar cutbacks are being proposed at the federal level for beneficiaries of the most generous public benefits program of them all: military retirees.

It will be interesting to see whether a Republican Congress allows a Democratic administration to proceed.

From the Washington Post this morning:

Among government workers, one group enjoys lifetime health benefits virtually unmatched in the United States: military retirees. …

The premiums are a fraction of those in the private sector, deductibles are low and co-pays limited. Premiums have not changed in 16 years. But Tricare’s costs are exploding, projected in five years to hit $65 billion to insure 9.6 million people. …

[Secretary of Defense Robert] Gates has tried to boost Tricare premiums in three Pentagon budgets. He made the case to Congress that spiraling personnel and health-care costs are “crippling” the military, as retirees receiving full pensions decline new health insurance when they go to work for private companies. He has warned that weapons modernization programs and equipment for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are in jeopardy.

But Congress rebuffed him each time, temporarily prohibiting the Pentagon from making changes to Tricare fees.

Gates is now back with a far more modest proposal to raise premiums for 586,000 retirees of working age by $2.50 a month for individuals and $5 a month for families. He is supported by the six members of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, who wrote an unusual plea to Congress in February urging passage of the plan.

Opponents, however, are giving little ground.

Can we cite this as Exhibit 327 of how crazy it was that conservatives and Republicans ended up in 2009 as the defenders of limitless healthcare spending for retirees?

Rising retiree health costs are devouring defense operations. They are driving the deficit. They will in time force tax increases. If you wish to maintain a vigorous national defense, balance the budget and hold the line on taxes, you must control healthcare costs.

And government healthcare costs cannot be controlled independent of trends in private healthcare costs. Peter Orszag was right about that.

In the end, the Gates approach to cost-control (like the approach being taken by governors with their public employee unions) will take us only so far.

Requiring employees to contribute more as costs rise will not prevent the costs from rising in the first place.

To slow the rise altogether, we’ll need to find more fundamental changes. Conservatives need to rejoin that discussion, not opportunistically seize the chance to score political points by aligning themselves against difficult reforms.


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19 Comments so far ↓

  • Smargalicious

    Unfortunately, after the lifting of DADT the military is no longer an honorable profession.

    Yet another institution destroyed by liberal progressives.

    God help us all.

    • TAZ

      Thank you for the Westbro Baptist Church prospective.

    • medinnus

      Right on cue, Smeggy.

      Folks, he just has a wide stance. He obeys all the Biblical strictures, and not just those his black, hateful, damned soul finds convenient. So what if being a religious bigot is one of the most anti-American things a person can be.

      Are you a vet, Smeggy? Ever served honorably? Or are you just another coward chickenhawk?

      • Smargalicious

        meddy, please. The military services will now automatically become a magnet for gay males for purely medical reasons.

        Men who have sex with men are 46 to 86 times more likely to be newly infected with HIV. Thus, with the Department of Defense now condoning, promoting, and protecting homosexual activity every member infected will get lifetime medical care courtesy of the taxpayers.

        Although there is irony in this statement, the military is no longer a safe environment for good young adults anymore.

    • rbottoms

      It’s a profession cowards like you would never consider under any circumstances. I don’t regret that this liberal spent 13.5 years protecting a whole flock of Chickenhawks.

      • baw1064

        Of course you don’t regret it–you’re getting a really really really REALLY good deal on healthcare for the rest of your life!

        • balconesfault

          You’re showing your ignorance.

          Rbottoms might be eligible for VA hospitals, but he’s not eligible for Tricare, if he only served 13.5 years.

  • ottovbvs

    This is just another example of where the Republicans don’t give a damn about the deficit in reality. Why else have they insisted on adding nearly a trillion bucks to it by a) insisting on retention of tax cuts for the wealthiest and b) the continuance of tax loopholes for one of the most profitable industries in the country…oil? The Republicans has only two goals to get back into power and thereby gain access to the spoils trough and to roll back the new deal and great society. Since most Americans have no desire for the roll back of the new deal or great society (or the foreign adventures to which Republicans are also prone) the result is incoherence and corruption. These people are not fit to govern as the current contretemps over the budget so painfully demonstrates.

  • dante

    Ottovbvs – Don’t forget the 2005 act of prohibiting Medicare from negotiating prices with drug companies like the rest of the industrialized countries do… It’s caused the GOP’s claim that we must control Medicare costs ring hollow, at least to me.

    • ottovbvs

      This of course is why we’re spending roughly three times as much on drugs as any other country iin the world. The bottom line on healthcare is we have system that is costing roughly twice as much as anyone elses. Why is that? It can’t be access to healthcare because all these other countries provide universal access and we don’t. So logically with less access we should be spending less. So why aren’t we? The answer lies in a) the way we organize funding (as a profit making enterprise) and b) the much larger problem of the cost of delivering care whether it’s drugs at three times the price or $1,5oo cat scans. Republicans don’t want to address any of this, they don’t even want to measure the effectiveness of treatments. They are massively incompetent when it comes to the process of actually running the country because so much of effective management collides with their ideology. The closest resemblence to them is the Soviet Union’s system of management. In a debate between pragmatism and ideology it’s the pragmatism that gets thrown overboard.

  • joemarier

    Well, we could go back to the old system and force everyone who sticks with military medicine to use military hospitals or go out of pocket. That’d mean that every military brat in the DC area with a sniffle would face a drive to Bethesda — and every kid with ADHD would face a six-month wait.

    Really, David, if you eliminate employees contributing more as costs rise AND price controls, what else is left? (OK, technically forcing a narrow network IS price controls, but you know what I mean.)

  • Cforchange

    Contrary to popular GOP thinking – we need to address health care. Is is sucking the life out of everything but the medical field.

    “most generous public benefits program of them all: military retirees.” Now that’s comedy. Shouldn’t it read :congressional retirees.

  • think4yourself

    My dad spent 23 years active duty including Vietnam and retired then took up another profession for another 15 years. He says that TriCare is too rich and would gladly pay more if he could.

    We have a culture especially among Republicans that we wrap ourselves in jingoistic love of country, call our military heroes for the purpose of getting their votes and the votes of their families. I’m not denigrating military service, my dad, grandfather, uncle and numerous cousins have served. I respect and appreciate military service. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a conversation about the cost of benefits. Unfortunately the GOP (more than the Dems in my view even though the Dems are not blameless) uses every opportunity to create wedge issues to score political points. How well have they learned the lessons of Karl Rove and Lee Atwater before him.

  • Houndentenor

    We have to provide these services for veterans. Now, if we can do it more efficiently and save money in the process, I’m for that. But I’m not for cutting the actual benefits and services.

  • Saladdin

    Any low hanging fruit should be plucked. But God forbid we hit ss and defense…

  • cotton

    I’m a Veteran, and because of my love for my country I’m willing to pay higher fees for what will still be a pretty good deal. Everyone must sacrifice some to eliminate the deficit and pay off our national debt. I suspect most veterans would feel the same way – although our Veteran’s Service Organizations will cry like liberal pansies about any increase in fees.

  • Arms Merchant

    The government should not make promises it can’t keep. But most politicians really just can’t help themselves. Stop them before they promise again (i.e., vote them out).

  • politicalfan

    I think if a person has served the country, they should be out of the cutting equation.

    If you’re a veteran, they actually sign up for benefits, correct? If they don’t want them, I don’t see why they couldn’t opt out. However, I don’t think they should have to.

    Bottom line, would you serve your country by not seeing your family members for months and months? Cut the waste, ect. just don’t do it on the backs of the soldiers.

    I disagree Cotton respectfully. I think you’ve given your country enough! Are the politicians that are willing to cut benefits willing to have those same cuts to their paychecks or future? If the answer is “no.” I say, carry on and find cuts that will not make a rough situation worse.

  • NCScientist

    “I think if a person has served the country, they should be out of the cutting equation.”

    Why aren’t teachers, firefighters, and policemen seen as “serving the country?”