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Thursday, Oct 02, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Washington breaking its promise on military benefits

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The government has been known to spend a lot of money foolishly, but keeping the pact it made with military veterans about pensions and other benefits is not an example of Washington waste. It’s a promise made to people whose job description includes having bullets fired at them by the Taliban and other enemies, and it ought to be kept.

Veterans groups are rallying against proposed benefit cuts as Washington politicians on both sides of the aisle look for ways to cut the budget. Since curbing the government’s appetite for cash is a high priority for lots of people these days, someone has to lose when spending gets trimmed.

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It shouldn’t be the troops, though.

I won’t deny that the pensions and other benefits offered to military people are generous. That was part of the sales pitch to get volunteers to sign up for duty in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, but now people including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and U.S. Rep. Paul “Slash the Budget” Ryan are saying we can’t afford to pay what we promised.

It’s a little late for that.

As a story in The Tampa Tribune showed, only 17 percent of military personnel serve long enough to even qualify for a pension. That total includes people who joined up at age 18, stayed the mandatory 20 years, and then began drawing half their base salary at age 38.

Yep, that’s pretty generous all right. I also don’t have a problem with that, because we made a deal.

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The Pentagon says it pays $4.5 billion annually to about 2 million retirees.

Where, oh where, can they find the money?

According to the website WashPIRG.org, large corporations with good tax lawyers are able to park a lot of money they make in this country into off-shore locations. The website reported that massive drug-making company Pfizer made 40 percent of its sales in the United States over the last five years but reported no taxable income during that time and has $73 billion in off-shore accounts.

Companies including Microsoft and Citigroup also benefited from loopholes.

Oh, and Pfizer CEO Ian Reed made $18 million in 2012.

But no, Washington’s response is that military pensions and other “entitlements” such as Social Security and Medicare are bankrupting the country and we have to get a handle on them. Why don’t we all just pay our fair share, including the multinational corporations? That would be one way to solve the problem.

Of course, we know how this is really going to end, don’t we?

After the backlash from veterans groups, early next year Congress will almost certainly amend the budget it just passed and restore pensions to their promised levels. Then the budget hawks will go looking for other ways to break the government’s promises to everyday folks who pay the bills and keep this country running.

And the big companies with the best lobbyists will make sure the tax laws don’t change.

It’s how the game is played in Washington.

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