It’s a funny way to run a government, but things don’t float to the top in this town until they’ve appeared on the front page of the New York Times. The issue of cutting military retiree pay has been looming for awhile — like a shark just beneath the surface — but it finally crashes into public consciousness Monday when the newspaper puts it on Page 1:
Making even incremental reductions to military benefits is typically a doomed political venture, given the public’s broad support for helping troops, the political potency of veterans groups and the fact that significant savings take years to appear. But the intense push in Congress this year to reduce the debt and the possibility that the Pentagon might have to begin trimming core programs like weapons procurement, research, training and construction have suddenly made retiree benefits vulnerable, military officials and experts say.
Most military experts I know — including many recently out of uniform, retired or otherwise — agree. They argue the current program — 20 years of service and troops can retire at half their base pay — is a relic of an industrial, post-World War II era. It would be better, they maintain, if troops didn’t feel compelled to stay in uniform for 20 years and could leave well short of that with some kind of portable pension benefit they currently lack.
Even though the Washington Post is the capital’s local paper, the TV networks, magazines, wire services and cable television take their cues from the Old Gray Lady. So watch for a spike in coming days in stories on the sudden vulnerability of military benefits. And all-out war to preserve the status quo.