‘Supporting the Troops’ Without Supporting Any Troops: A How-To Guide

Members of Congress are vowing to reverse recent military pension cuts, but they’re tying the legislation to unrelated proposals with little chance of passing.

In this photo taken Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010, U.S. Army soldiers from 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment stand in formation during the casing ceremony for 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, the last American combat brigade to serve in Iraq, at Camp Virginia, Kuwait. The number of U.S. troops in Iraq has fallen below 50,000 for the first time since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and ahead of the end-of-the-month deadline mandated by President Barack Obama, the American military said in a statement Tuesday. The number is a watershed _ American forces will no longer conduct combat operations in the country but are instead to train Iraqi troops and help with counter terrorism operations, if asked for by the Iraqis. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
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Jordain Carney
Jan. 23, 2014, midnight

Ever since sign­ing off on a Decem­ber budget deal that that rolled back $6 bil­lion in vet­er­ans pen­sions, law­makers have pro­fessed great sin­cer­ity in their ef­forts to re­store full pay­ments to the vet­er­ans.

And why wouldn’t they? No law­maker, ever, wants to be seen as break­ing faith with “the troops,” so when vet­er­ans were out­raged over $6 bil­lion in cuts to work­ing-age re­tired ser­vice mem­bers, law­makers scrambled to spon­sor bills that would put the fund­ing back in place.

So far, Con­gress’s om­ni­bus spend­ing bill re­moved the be­ne­fits re­duc­tion for vet­er­ans who re­tired for med­ic­al reas­ons, but that was a small part — less than one-tenth — of the total cuts.

And now, for all the hand-wringing over re­vers­ing the rest of the cost-of-liv­ing-ad­just­ment cuts, many of those meas­ures are at­tached to le­gis­la­tion that is go­ing pre­cisely nowhere — in large part be­cause of where they pro­pose to de­crease spend­ing to off­set the vet­er­ans’ cuts.

Take, for ex­ample, a pair of pro­pos­als from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Rep. Dan Maf­fei. The Demo­crat­ic duo has in­tro­duced sim­il­ar le­gis­la­tion in their re­spect­ive cham­bers that would swap the COLA cuts by clos­ing a tax loop­hole for off­shore cor­por­a­tions. Shaheen has said she is will­ing to work with mem­bers of both parties, but thus far of the 69 com­bined co­spon­sors for her and Maf­fei’s meas­ures, zero are Re­pub­lic­ans.

Across the aisle, Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Scott Des­Jar­lais of Ten­ness­ee is push­ing to re­store the be­ne­fits us­ing a fa­vor­ite GOP tar­get: the Af­ford­able Care Act. Des­Jar­lais wants to take money from the ACA’s Pre­ven­tion and Pub­lic Health Fund, which he calls “a slush fund.” The meas­ure is a non­starter in Harry Re­id’s Sen­ate.

Mean­while, Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick is re­com­mend­ing Con­gress pay for the pen­sion funds by in­creas­ing re­quire­ments to re­ceive the Re­fund­able Child Tax Cred­it, a move aimed at block­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants from claim­ing the cred­it. Rep. Martha Roby called the pro­pos­al “a fix the Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence can rally around,” and Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Kelly Ayotte is push­ing a sim­il­ar meas­ure in the Sen­ate.

When le­gis­lat­ors in­tro­duce bills that pit be­ne­fits against the oth­er party’s policy pri­or­it­ies, it of­fers them a new av­en­ue to ac­cuse their rivals of “stand­ing with [in­sert polit­ic­ally un­pop­u­lar group here]” in­stead of sup­port­ing vet­er­ans. What it doesn’t of­fer, however, is any help to those vet­er­ans them­selves.

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