Lawmakers Propose Defense Cuts to Offset Katrina Relief
Several House Republicans have proposed cuts in military benefits and austerity measures for other federal workers to offset the cost of Hurricane Katrina.
A group of House Republicans have proposed a plan to offset the costs of relief and rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina that includes trimming military quality-of-life programs, including health care. Possible sources of funding cuts to free up money for Katrina relief include reduced health benefits, consolidation of the three military exchange systems and the closure of the militaryÃ¢€™s stateside school system.
The House Republican Study Committee, headed by Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., is not singling out the military as it tries to raise the estimated $200 billion that the federal government will need for various Katrina-related spending. Their proposal includes freezing congressional pay, charging federal workers for parking and cutting back on legislative earmarking Ã¢€” items added to agency budgets by lawmakers Ã¢€” as ways of raising money. They call their effort Ã¢€œOperation Offset,Ã¢€ and hope to get spending cuts considered before Congress approves any more money devoted to Katrina relief and recovery operations.
Their offset list includes three provisions aimed at military quality-of-life programs:
Ã¢€¢ Service members would be offered cash if they are willing to accept reduced health care benefits for their families. Ã¢€œThe less comprehensive plan would encourage individuals to be more cost-conscious when purchasing health care products by including deductibles, co-payments and a maximum annual out-of-pocket expenditure limit,Ã¢€ according to a written explanation provided by the study group. Reduced health care benefits could save $2.4 billion over 10 years.
Ã¢€¢ The three separate military exchange systems could be consolidated, saving up to $1.9 billion over 10 years, the study group says. The Army and Air Force share an exchange system, AAFES, while the Navy and Marine Corps have their own systems. Ã¢€œConsolidating Ã¢€¦ would eliminate inefficiencies from duplicative purchasing, different personnel departments, warehouse and inventory systems and management headquarters while retaining the current ability for service embers and their families to receive a wide selection of goods at a low price,Ã¢€ the statement says. The Pentagon has studied the idea of exchange consolidation for years but has been unable to overcome bureaucratic obstacles and opposition from some service officials and industry groups. Several studies of the issue also have raised questions about how much money would be saved.
Ã¢€¢ The stateside system of elementary and secondary schools for military family members could be closed, saving $788 million over 10 years, the study says. Ã¢€œThis provision would phase out these domestic schools over time and shift these military children into the local public school systems,Ã¢€ the study group says. The Pentagon also has been studying this idea, but has faced strong opposition from parents of children attending the schools because public schools are seen as offering lower-quality education.
Cutting benefits for our military personnel in the midst of a long war and the resultant recruiting and retention difficulties is, on its face, unwise. Nonetheless, some of these proposals have merit aside from Katrina.
Consolidating the exchanges has long been obvious, although the savings are less than a drop in the bucket compared to the $200 billion or more the federal taxpayer will spend on Katrina relief.
For the most part, closing on-base schools makes sense, too. I grew up in a military family and only attended DoD schools while overseas and the year we were stationed at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri about 1000 miles from civilization. As the military adopts personnel policies that keep soldiers in one duty station several years at a time, most of the rationale for separate schools is gone. Special provisions might be necessary, though, for remote outposts like Ft. Leonard Wood.
The continued erosion of the military health care system is worrisome. Twenty years ago, it was simply presumed that soldiers, their dependants, and retirees would have free access to military hospitals and insurance-like access to civilian hospitals. That’s no longer the case. With our current high operations tempo keeping soldiers away from their family for eighteen months or more, the last thing they need to worry about is ensuring that their families’ health care needs are being met.
Again, though, the savings realized from the combination of these measures is a mere pittance. Even if the projections above prove accurate, we would save a mere $5.1 billion over the next decade. We spent that the first day of Katrina.