OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Pentagon budget slashes benefits

The Topline: The Pentagon is facing a looming fight against veterans groups and lawmakers in its 2015 defense budget preview released Monday. 

The proposal would reduce benefits for active-duty personnel, reduce the Army’s size to a pre-World War II level and close excess military bases — all things that have faced stiff resistance by Congress and veterans. 

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Troops would see a 1 percent pay raise and flag and general officers would see a pay freeze in 2015. Troops living off-base would see the housing costs rise by 5 percent, and would no longer have renter’s insurance reimbursed. 

Healthcare fees and deductibles would rise for retired members and active-duty family members. Subsidies for military commissaries inside the U.S. that provide military families with low-cost goods would be reduced. 

Keeping pay raises at 1 percent and raising the cost of housing 5 percent would cost an E-5 Army sergeant with 10 years of service $1,400 per year, according to the Military Officers Association of America. 

An 0-3 Army captain would lose $2,100 per year, according to the MOAA. Those costs would not include changes from healthcare fee increases or the increased cost in goods at commissaries.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued the statement: “Here we go again. Washington is trying to balance the budget on the backs of those who have sacrificed the most.” 

“We know the Defense Department must make difficult budget decisions, but these cuts would hit servicemembers, making it harder for them and their families to make ends meet,” said a statement by the group’s CEO and founder, Paul Rieckhoff. 

For more on the budget preview, click here

Congress criticizes defense budget request: Lawmakers fired off statements criticizing the changes to military compensation and proposed program cuts. 

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) urged the Pentagon to wait until a commission appointed to review pay and compensation comes out with its recommendations in February 2015.  

"We know that the all volunteer force is a finely tuned instrument. That is why the NDAA instituted a commission to examine the compensation structure. I continue to believe it would be foolish to institute those significant, piecemeal changes before the commission reports — especially since these moves are the consequence of trying to resolve our fiscal problems on the backs of our troops,” McKeon said in a statement. 

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said she would fight the Pentagon’s plan to retire the Air Force’s A-10 attack jet fleets without having a viable alternative. 

“Instead of cutting its best and least expensive close air support aircraft in an attempt to save money, the Air Force could achieve similar savings elsewhere in its budget without putting our troops at increased risk,” she said in a statement. 

House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) called for his fellow lawmakers to reverse budget caps known as sequestration that would reduce Pentagon spending by $50 billion each year through 2023. 

“If Congress does not act, sequestration will go back into effect in fiscal year 2016 and beyond. Secretary Hagel clearly articulated that future uncertainty is making it difficult for the Department to plan,” Smith said in a statement. 

“Under these conditions, our military leaders are doing their best to put forward a budget that provides national security. The preview outlines some tough choices, and I look forward to reviewing the budget in its entirety.”

McKeon urges attention to Afghanistan: Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) urged the public and the administration not to abandon Afghanistan, and to support an enduring presence there after the NATO combat mission ends in 2014. 

“Without our support, and that support includes presence and money, the Afghan security forces can't execute,” he told an audience at the National Press Club on Monday afternoon. 

“The remaining gaps are not unreasonable for a five-year-old force. They need help with logistics, with administration, pay and leave, with air support, with intelligence,” said McKeon.

“Filling these gaps does not mean that America's sons and daughters will be stuck on the front lines forever,” he added. 

McKeon’s remarks comes after a Gallup poll last week that found that most Americans believe the war was an error. 

House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) echoed McKeon’s remarks in a statement Monday: “We all want to bring our remaining troops home as soon as possible, but succeeding in Afghanistan is vital to our national security interests and our mission must take priority over any calendar dates. The president has an obligation to better make that case to the American people.”

Military sexual assault bills blocked: An effort by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to set up two military sexual assault bills for a vote this week was blocked by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who demanded the Senate also vote on an Iran sanctions bill. 

"I am terribly disappointed that my Republican friends are trying to turn this vital national security concern into a partisan issue by trying to inject into it a setting where it's clearly not relevant," Reid said.

The White House has urged senators not to vote on additional sanctions as it seeks a final deal to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  

The bills are by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) who proposes giving military lawyers outside a defendant’s chain of command authority over any military court case in order to avoid favoritism, retaliation against a victim or unwillingness to prosecute a case.

The other bill is by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who favors leaving the authority within the chain of command but supports other reform measures.

 

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