Weekly Columns

As 2013 came to a close, Republicans and Democrats, in both houses of Congress, came to an agreement on a two-year budget deal.

The bill passed by Congress outlines government spending through 2015 and should prevent a government shutdown like we faced this past fall. It was a good-faith effort by both sides to find common ground to avoid another shutdown. However, it fell dramatically short.

I could not support the measure as it immediately increases spending with the promise of future cuts. The problem with this approach is that those future cuts rarely materialize. Furthermore, the agreement busts the budget caps that were put place to get us on the path to fiscal responsibility by rolling back the across-the-board cuts, known as sequestration, that were created by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Sequestration, while not the ideal way to address spending, has actually worked. As a result, we have been able to reduce discretionary spending for two straight years for the first time since the end of World War II. While we should look for a better method to achieve savings than across-the-board cuts, this agreement falls short of achieving significant savings. 

One misguided way the budget agreement finds savings comes at the expense of our retired servicemen and women. The agreement reduces the cost-of-living-adjustments (COLAs) for retired servicemembers under the age of 62. There are better ways to find savings than reducing the retirement compensation of individual military retirees by as much as $72,000. It’s simply not appropriate to ask our military retirees for more sacrifice while we continue to ignore our real spending problem.

One only needs to look to the work by my colleague Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) to find numerous examples of wasteful spending that should be cut instead of taking money from our retired servicemembers. In Senator Coburn’s oversight report—called the “Wastebook”—he highlights 100 examples of wasteful and low-priority spending totaling nearly $30 billion.

Examples of wasteful spending highlighted in “Wastebook 2013” include nearly $1 million spent to “explore the origins and influences of popular romance;” the mass destruction of more than $7 billion worth of useable military equipment; and, of course, the wasteful money spent on advertising Obamacare that has totaled at least $379 million.

Members of both parties have indicated a strong desire to fix the cuts to military retiree pensions and legislation to correct the mistake has already been introduced in the House. I am committed to working with my colleagues to find a solution, but this should never have happened in the first place.

This poorly selected way to find savings was enough to keep me from supporting the budget agreement alone, much less the fact that it busts the budget caps. It is a matter of priorities. The men and women who have served and sacrificed for our freedoms should not take the blame for Washington’s excessive spending.

While I appreciate the effort to restore regular order to the budget process, we have to get serious about our spending problem. I hope that we can do that during the appropriations process in the coming year. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road and continue the “spend now in return for promises later” mentality.