HH: I can safely say that there are only three members of the United States House of Representatives who have A) served in the United States military, and B) graduated from Harvard Law School. They are Tom Cotton, Ron DeSantis and my next guest, Congressman Mike Pompeo from Kansas. All three of them voted against the omnibus bill. Welcome, Congressman Pompeo, and thank you for your vote yesterday.
MP: Thank you. Good to be with you tonight.
HH: All right, can you tell us what you think is going on in your colleagues’ minds when they vote to cut the COLA of active duty retired?
MP: Well, I’ve got to tell you, you and I both know, Hugh, there’s waste inside the military. We’ve got to go find it, we’ve got to get every nickel, and we’ve got to spend it in an effective way for our soldiers, our sailors and our airmen. But I don’t get when we’ve got a $1.1 trillion dollar budget why we can’t find the resources to go make good on the promises that we made to our, to those same folks. I just, I can’t quite figure it out. We do have a streak in our party that I think thinks we need to retrench. But even those who believe that shouldn’t think that we should do it on the backs of our fighting men and women.
HH: Now you see, if they had been overall, if there had been an overall COLA reform that hit Social Security and wealthy Medicare recipients, and every other escalator, if everything had been on the table and this was a comprehensive deal, you know, I’ll bet the members of the military who were hit by this, they might flinch, but they might do what they always do, which is say I understand it’s in the best interest of the country. But to be the first in line to take a whack, Congressman? Did any of your colleagues not recognize that may be the worst thing, worst vote they’ve ever cast?
MP: No, I agree with you completely. These are patriots. If they were doing this to make sure that our nation was strong, and this was the place we found ourselves, I think they’d be the first ones to come and step and say yup, if that makes sense, let’s do it. But we’ve got federal employees that didn’t get the same treatment, and working in the civilian sector not making the same sacrifice that those men and women are. So it was, I’m trying to be polite. It was most unfortunate the path we went down. And we’re going to keep working hard to go get it fixed in the course of the next six months between now and this September. I think a handful of folks now recognize that they’re, that was a mistake, and I hope we can go from a handful to enough folks to get it undone.
HH: Now you have a retreat of the House Republican Caucus in two weeks out in Maryland. One of the ideas I put forward at Townhall.com, which is it’s just low key and it’s just fair, is to invite to speak to your caucus a military spouse like Jen Pilcher of www.military1click.com or…not an active duty military. They can’t get involved in this. But their spouses who get dragged all over the world for 20 years could certainly do so. Do you think Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who is the conference chair, or the leadership would have the guts to do that?
MP: Yeah, I think it would be a fine idea. I think it would be a fine idea to have a spouse or a family member, a child, maybe a grown child, even, come talk about their lives and what that’s really like. I think it’d be, I think it’d be eye-opening for some members who haven’t had the experience of wearing the uniform. I think it’s a very, very fine idea. I have no idea how far along they’re planning the conference and whether it’s something that’s possible.
HH: Now in terms of after the vote, there’s also a second major problem. I just talked about this with Mark Steyn. This bill came out on Tuesday night. We had the outlines from Chairman Ryan and Chairwoman Murray in December. But I didn’t even pay much attention to it, because I figured you guys would never do this to the military. The real bill actually came out on, I think, Tuesday night and passed on Wednesday night. Now is that consistent with the commitments the House Republican Conference has made to their voters?
MP: Well, my recollection, Hugh, is that we saw it on Monday evening. I don’t recall exactly what time. So we had, oh, 48 hours, 50 hours. Some of this had been through committee. We’d seen some of this language before. But let’s be very clear. It’s hard to get into the details, and I am confident that there’ll be something that pops up that was misread, misunderstood in the coming days. You recall from December when the original plan was passed. There were things that were just technically poorly drafted and had to be fixed this time. I wish that we had a process that we could back to a time when you had time in committees, and everybody could get a chance to be thoughtful and hear from outside groups who were also reading this, whether that’s military groups or folks who don’t like the military, get a chance to read it and present their thoughts and issues. That didn’t happen in this process this time.
HH: I’m talking with Congressman Mike Pompeo from Kansas. He is one of the rising stars of the Republican Party, and by the way, I asked our mutual friend, John Campbell, since he was retiring, who I needed to find to come on regularly. And he gave me a list of three or four, and you were on it. And so…
MP: Well, that’s very kind of John. I think he’s going to be spending some time in Kansas here, and we’re thrilled with that.
HH: Well, wait until you spend more time with him. You won’t be. He’ll load it up with all of his old junkie cars. But let me ask you about, you’re on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, one of the big three. I don’t know the answer to this. Does the unemployment extension legislation come through your committee?
MP: It does not. It would come through Ways And Means. Because of the way it’s drafted, it is largely a tax provision that comes through Ways And Means.
HH: That’s too bad, because I’m looking for a way that the COLA cut could be reversed quickly. And do you think there’s going to be enough energy in the caucus to get that done if anything gets sent over that your leadership is going to acquiesce in?
MP: Well, remember, there are still a couple more pieces of legislation that have to get done, including a debt ceiling increase. And whether that ends up being in February or March, I don’t know. But there are still opportunities to go fix these provisions, things where we’ll have a chance to be thoughtful and go make this case. And I hope we’ll get a bunch of folks come talk to their members about why this matters, and why we shouldn’t have done this absent a broader reform, both, frankly, both with pensions and thinking about how we fund our DOD and how we’re going to provide for today while making sure we’ve got a strong military for tomorrow as well.
HH: You know, one of the arguments I heard, I actually heard it from Chairman Ryan on this show, is that readiness was in such a bad state that they had to agree to this budget in order to get readiness back up, which translates to the pilots have to pay for their fuel, and the Marines and Army in Afghanistan have to pay for their bullets for the privilege of fighting the war. And then another of your members said look, this is a rounding error. The language that your colleagues use, it’s just jarring, and I’m a civilian’s civilian. I’ve got no time in uniform. I don’t have the right to make these arguments. But I hear it from those like you who have served.
MP: Well, look, this is not a rounding error for the enlisted soldier who loses some money every month. I think that’s just a false statement this would matter to them. Perhaps more importantly, it was a promise that we made to them when they signed up. I’ll say this, too. We really need to fundamentally rethink what share of our priorities our military’s going to be. Today, we spend as a percentage of GDP for total national security spending far less than we spent almost at any time in our history since World War II. And they’ve been drowned out. They’ve been drowned out by enormous entitlement programs and other non-security spending. And so when you do that, when you put the crunch on the folks who are keeping us all safe, you start to have to make really difficult choices. And I hope we can get to a place where we don’t have to make that choice about whether we are going to take care of that young soldier and his family, for their medical needs and for their health care in the way that we promised him, or pay for the fuel for our airplanes to go inflict death upon the folks who are trying to kill us.
HH: And a last question for you, Congressman. You went to West Point and graduated, I believe, in ’86. And you served five years. Then you went to Harvard Law School. There is a point in a young officer’s career where they have to decide to go the 20 or get out. What does this decision have on the retention rate of those young officers and those young rising corporals who will be NCOs?
MP: Hugh, it’s a great question. So I think the real risk, certainly this pension will matter. There’ll be folks who look at this and say that’s different. But I think even more than that, I think they’ll begin to wonder whether all of the commitments that we make to them will be real and will be followed through on. That is the credibility which I think Democrats and Republicans alike for a long time have had, which is if we make a promise to you, we’re going to honor it. I think we have begun to chip away at that, and I think that’s an enormous cultural mistake for our nation, that the compact that we make to our warriors. I think it’s one of the primary reasons, forget the actual dollars for just a moment, although they’re important. This idea that we’re going to honor our commitments to our fighting men and women is incredibly important.
HH: Congressman Pompeo, thank you. I would urge everyone to go to Twitter and use the hashtag #keepyourpromise to communicate with each other. And Congressman Pompeo is one of the good guys, as are the other Harvard Law veterans, Ron DeSantis and Tom Cotton. All three of them voted against this. That ought to tell people something.
End of interview.