Army Times, 30 June 2003
Nothing but lip service
In recent months, President Bush and the Republican-controlled
Congress have missed no opportunity to heap richly deserved praise on
the military. But talk is cheap -- and getting cheaper by the day,
judging from the nickel-and-dime treatment the troops are getting
For example, the White House griped that various pay-and-benefits
incentives added to the 2004 defense budget by Congress are wasteful
and unnecessary -- including a modest proposal to double the $6,000
gratuity paid to families of troops who die on active duty. This
comes at a time when Americans continue to die in Iraq at a rate of
about one a day.
Similarly, the administration announced that on Oct. 1 it wants to
roll back recent modest increases in monthly imminent-danger pay
(from $225 to $150) and family-separation allowance (from $250 to
$100) for troops getting shot at in combat zones.
Then there�s military tax relief -- or the lack thereof. As Bush and
Republican leaders in Congress preach the mantra of tax cuts, they
can�t seem to find time to make progress on minor tax provisions that
would be a boon to military homeowners, reservists who travel long
distances for training and parents deployed to combat zones, among
Incredibly, one of those tax provisions -- easing residency rules for
service members to qualify for capital-gains exemptions when selling
a home -- has been a homeless orphan in the corridors of power for
more than five years now.
The chintz even extends to basic pay. While Bush�s proposed 2004
defense budget would continue higher targeted raises for some ranks,
he also proposed capping raises for E-1s, E-2s and O-1s at 2 percent,
well below the average raise of 4.1 percent.
The Senate version of the defense bill rejects that idea, and would
provide minimum 3.7 percent raises for all and higher targeted hikes
for some. But the House version of the bill goes along with Bush,
making this an issue still to be hashed out in upcoming negotiations.
All of which brings us to the latest indignity -- Bush�s $9.2 billion
military construction request for 2004, which was set a full $1.5
billion below this year�s budget on the expectation that Congress, as
has become tradition in recent years, would add funding as it drafted
the construction appropriations bill.
But Bush�s tax cuts have left little elbow room in the 2004 federal
budget that is taking shape, and the squeeze is on across the board.
The result: Not only has the House Appropriations military
construction panel accepted Bush�s proposed $1.5 billion cut, it
voted to reduce construction spending by an additional $41 million
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., senior Democrat on the House Appropriations
Committee, took a stab at restoring $1 billion of the $1.5 billion
cut in Bush�s construction budget. He proposed to cover that cost by
trimming recent tax cuts for the roughly 200,000 Americans who earn
more than $1 million a year. Instead of a tax break of $88,300, they
would receive $83,500.
The Republican majority on the construction appropriations panel
quickly shot Obey down. And so the outlook for making progress next
year in tackling the huge backlog of work that needs to be done on
crumbling military housing and other facilities is bleak at best.
Taken piecemeal, all these corner-cutting moves might be viewed as
mere flesh wounds. But even flesh wounds are fatal if you suffer
enough of them. It adds up to a troubling pattern that eventually
will hurt morale -- especially if the current breakneck operations
tempo also rolls on unchecked and the tense situations in Iraq and
Afghanistan do not ease.
Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, who notes that the House passed a
resolution in March pledging �unequivocal support� to service members
and their families, puts it this way: �American military men and
women don�t deserve to be saluted with our words and insulted by our
Translation: Money talks -- and we all know what walks.