Congressman Ron DeSantis On The Omnibus Spending Bill
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HH: Over at Hughhewitt.com, I have listed the names of the 64 Republicans who voted against that terrible deal yesterday, and I am pleased to welcome one of those 64 right now, and Congressman Ron DeSantis of Florida is not only voting right on this, he actually knows of which he speaks. In 2007, as Lt. DeSantis, he reported to Naval Special Warfare Command Group in Coronado, California, where he was assigned to SEAL Team 1 and deployed to Iraq with the troop surge as legal advisor to SEAL Commander Special Ops Task Force in Fallujah. Congressman DeSantis, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show. Thanks for your vote yesterday. It was important.
RD: Oh, absolutely. Thanks for having me, Hugh. You know, it’s interesting, this deal busts the budget caps so it spends more over the next two years, and they tried to mask that by singling out, and the only group they single out in the entire agreement for any type of negative treatment are our active duty retirees. So these are people who have served 20 years or more on active duty, and when this takes effect in 2016, if you’re, say, a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant who serves 20 years, that’s just not showing up to Camp Lejeune for 20 years. That’s likely multiple tours to Iraq, multiple tours to Afghanistan. And I just cannot understand one, why we would single them out, but two, why we would hit them in order to mask increased spending. And so it was a pretty easy decision for me.
HH: Now Congressman DeSantis, on my friend, Larry O’Connor’s morning show two days ago, Chris Van Hollen, your colleague across the aisle, said, and we played the tape of it, that the idea to cut the military retirees’ pay when they retire, to break the deal with them, came from the Republicans, because Republicans did not want to cut agricultural subsidies. Do you have a comment on that?
RD: Well, I personally don’t know if that’s true, because this was all done behind closed doors. But if it is true, obviously, that doesn’t speak well of those Republicans who were involved. I mean, one, we need to be reforming these agriculture subsidies anyway. There’s no way we should be justifying continuing them at the expense of our military. And so people talk about what does the GOP need to do, how do they need to do better with voters, this is not the way to do better with voters as far as I’m concerned.
HH: Now Congressman DeSantis, most of the people who’ve heard me argue about this over the last three days have agreed with me, but some descent and say we have to start somewhere, it’s a COLA, it’s only a cut in the increase they’ll get anyway in a year. What’s your response to them?
RD: I would say two things. I would not start with the people who’ve given us 20 years of active service. I would put them at the back. And I’ve had retired military come to me and say look, if this was part of an overall plan to save us from bankruptcy, you know, we wouldn’t mind. But this is singling us out. And two, when you’re doing the COLA for these folks, you’re basically protecting the benefit that they’ve earned. The government transfers a lot of money around in this country. These individuals who served for 20 plus years, you know, they’re the ones who without a shadow of a doubt have earned those benefits. And so I just think it’s important that they get what they earned.
HH: And Congressman, do your colleagues at least on the Republican side understand what they have kicked up, what they’ve done here? I think your retreat in Maryland in two weeks may get picketed by military spouses and their families.
RD: Well, they did not know when we did the budget last month. This was kind of a sleeper issue. I saw it. I was really surprised that they had done that. Paul talked about it a little bit to the group. And I do think that there’s been opposition that has built, and people are dissatisfied with us in the House in particular, just because they thought we would be the ones who would stand up against it.
HH: And so how does it get fixed? I’m hopeful that the Senate refuses it and sends it back, and you know, I know we’re on a tight deadline, and you’d have a shutdown over the weekend, though you guys could fly back, and that you take it out. I mean, is it possible to get it fixed before it actually goes into law?
RD: It is possible, but everything I’ve heard is that Reid is not going to play ball on that. And so I think the Senate is probably pending, they’re probably going to pass this imminently right now. And so it’ll be up to us when we come back not next week but the following week to start offering some alternatives. And there have been a number of members who have put forward packages. Kelly Ayotte in the Senate tried to do something to basically reform the tax credit to crack down on fraud that people said would save $10-20 billion over ten years. Reid shut her down on that. But I think the House leadership needs to support some type of package where we can focus on spending, or a reform of government that clearly needs to be done and restore the COLAs for the retirees.
HH: Well, the Democrats are insisting on the extension of unemployment benefits. I don’t know that I would ever support that as a standalone measure, but if it comes to the House, do you think it is a guarantee that the restoration of the COLA would be attached to it?
RD: Well, what Kelly Ayotte tried to do, she was going to do the three month extension of UI, and she was going to do restoring the pension. And it was going to be paid for with her reform to the additional child credit, and that she had the numbers to back it up that would cover that. And so even with the UI in there, Reid still killed it, because they want to defend some of these illicit tax credits that people are claiming. And so it’s hard for me to understand why they would do that. Perhaps they want UI. They think they can use UI as an issue against some of our more vulnerable members.
HH: Have your Republican colleagues heard from friends, family and active duty retirees? And that’s an interesting term. Not many people understand what you mean by that. That just means members of the military who’ve got 20 plus in and therefore eligible to retire and get a pension immediately upon their retirement. But have you and your colleagues heard from that community? Or is this just too small of a group? It’s a very relatively small group against the mosaic of American politics. Are your colleagues unaware?
RD: I think they’re aware, and I’m certainly, I have a lot of veterans in my district, so I hear. I did over the, during the Christmas break, I did some Reserve duty at Naval Station Mayport here in Florida, and the Navy Times, the huge front page headline, Congress Targets Veterans, which is probably one of the worst headlines you would want to see if that was a vote that you had taken. And so the veteran community, the American Legion, some of these groups, they are animated and they are letting us know. And I’ll tell you, Hugh, the people who are the most animated about it are the 62 and up people who aren’t affected by it, because they’re looking out for the folks who served after them, and they’re concerned about how that could affect the benefits that those people have earned. And so I’ve received more feedback from 62 and up, the people who aren’t going to be affected, even than I have amongst the people who will be affected.
HH: Well, I hope people are following the hashtag at Twitter, #keepyourpromise, because that covers the Twitter conversation. But I just think some of your guys are clueless. I honestly, I hope at your retreat, I know it’s coming up in two weeks, you bring in a military spouse to try and educate the Republicans on what that life is like.
RD: Hey, I think that would be great. I think it would help crystalize the issue. We get so into these budget issues and you know, put on the green eye shades and get into this accountant mode, and sometimes, we’ve got to take a step back and understand what we’re doing in the broader picture in terms of the folks who have sacrificed to the country. And so I’m hoping that people like that, face to face interactions with the members, I think that would make a big impression.
HH: Congressman Ron DeSantis, good vote yesterday, thanks for joining me today, and I appreciate all you do. Thanks for your military service as well.
End of interview.