Inhofe decries ‘reckless’ cuts to military compensation

Lauren Schneiderman

The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday harshly criticized the Obama administration’s “reckless” proposals to rein in troop benefits.

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“We’re telling them they just cost us too much, that they constitute a ‘ticking time-bomb,’ and that their sacrifice is ‘eating us alive,’” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in his opening statement at a hearing on military compensation. “We are telling them that we are looking for a way out of fulfilling our commitments to them.  This is not the right signal to send those who volunteered to serve in time of war.”

Inhofe’s comments came before hearing testimony from Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey and the heads of each of the armed services about how ballooning compensation costs are set to impact combat readiness and weapons systems in the coming years.

In its fiscal year 2015 budget submission, the Pentagon put forward a package of cost savings measures, including consolidating TRICARE, the health plan for military families, and requiring troops to kick in for up to 6 percent of their housing costs. The plan would also slash direct subsidies for commissaries, where soldiers and their families can buy heavily discounted goods.

The Pentagon’s proposal was dead on arrival in Congress. In his mark of the defense authorization bill, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) on Monday roundly rejected all of the proposed changes and charged the White House with finding the money to pay for compensation elsewhere in the defense budget.

Inhofe blamed the bleak fiscal picture on “misguided fiscal priorities” that are forcing lawmakers to make a “false choice between paying our troops and their families what they deserve and giving them the training and capabilities required to accomplish their mission and return home safely to their loved ones.”

“This is an irresponsible and reckless choice,” he added.

Panel chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said congressional members “must do all that we can to minimize the adverse impact of these proposals.”

But, he added, "as long as the statutory budget caps remain in place, we do not have the option of simply rejecting these compensation proposals. We would have to make alternative cuts."