Top Democrats said they would revisit the change in military pensions, which raises $6 billion over 10 years, before it takes effect in two years. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said the cut could reduce by $80,000 the lifetime benefit of a soldier who retires in his or her early 40s.
In a document defending the cut, Ryan’s staff called pensions to middle-aged military retirees “an exceptionally generous benefit, often providing 40 years of pension payment in return for 20 years of service” and noted that “most begin a second career after leaving the military.” Ryan’s proposal would reduce the cost-of-living increase by one percentage point below inflation for the years before a pension recipient reaches 62. At that age, a “catch up” provision would restore the pension to where it would have been with full inflation increases.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the former prisoner of war, was among the few willing to defend the benefit cut, which has drawn howls of protest from senators with large military presences in their states and has vulnerable Democrats squirming.
“We cannot have continued increases in costs and benefits forever because of our inability to fund our national security,” McCain said. “In other words, the dramatic increase in personnel and benefit costs are such that we really aren’t going to have money left over for the mission, the equipment, and the capabilities.” McCain noted that many of those objecting to the pension benefit cut embraced the recommendations of the 2010 deficit panel chaired by former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, which proposed to eliminate the cost-of-living benefit entirely until age 62.
More representative, however, were endangered Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas, deadlocked with GOP Rep. Tom Cotton in an already heated campaign, who promised support for revisiting the pension provision before if takes effect in two years. “We cannot balance the budget on the backs of our hardworking military members and their families,” Pryor said. “These heroes lay their lives on the line for us and they deserve us to work to fix this provision so that they can receive the full benefits that they’ve earned.”