WASHINGTON – Congress should rein in military pay increases, raise fees on Tricare and reform DOD's retirement system to help reduce the national budget deficit while maintaining a strong national defense, according to a report released this week by the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning Washington think tank.
The report also suggests that sequestration, severe budget cuts scheduled to take effect in early 2013 if Congress fails to act to reduce the federal deficit, doesn't have to be such a bad thing either. Sequestration would cut $600 billion out of the DOD budget on top of nearly $500 billion in reductions to planned future spending that DOD says it can handle.
"(The) amount of cuts to the Pentagon budget mandated by both parts of the debt deal is readily achievable with no sacrifice to our security — if the cuts are done in a thoughtful manner over the next decade," the report said.
Cutting more than $1 trillion out of the defense budget over a decade, the report says, rolls back spending to 2006 levels, resulting in a military still "dominant in every dimension."
That runs counter to most thinking in Washington, including that of military leaders like Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who has used the terms "disaster" and "doomsday" to describe the prospect of sequestration.
But the report recommend a range of cuts in areas such as nuclear weapons and research, and criticized the "military industrial complex" for successfully pushing astronomically priced programs even as most Americans say they want less defense spending.
The report also endorsed the Pentagon's 2012 budget plan to begin reducing military pay increases – which it says have pushed military salaries thousands of dollars above civilian equivalents -- starting in 2015. The change would save $16.5 billion over five years, the report says.
An additional $15 billion could be saved during that time by raising Tricare fees for working-age retirees, as well as other changes. Reform of the retirement system by replacing the current plan with a 401k style arrangement could save $13 billion over five years, and $70 billion by 2042, the report said.
But a veterans advocate said military pay and benefits is the wrong place to look for savings. Particularly galling, said Ryan Gallucci, deputy director of the VFW Washington office, is that the discussion is commencing during an ongoing war.
"If we fail to keep faith with our volunteers--and our retirees in particular--we risk hollowing out the force,"Gallucci said. "The best of America won't choose to volunteer, (and) then it won't matter how many ships, jets or tanks we have at our disposal."