Those commandos who went into Yemen to try and rescue Luke Somers on Saturday? Congress thinks they should have their scheduled pay raise cut; that they need to start paying a co-pay on their and their families’ medications; that the annual adjustment in housing allowance their families receive should be reduced in 2015 so that it is 1 percent below inflation.
Just before Christmas, the Grinch that is the lame duck Congress is poised to pass a National Defense Authorization Act that cuts the pay and benefits of the entire uniformed active duty military, including the young men and women at sea and away from their families this Christmas, the kids in basic training and the soldiers at the DMZ in South Korea as well as across Afghanistan, Iraq and of course in Africa containing the Ebola plague.
Congress has decided that the $5 billion the president says is needed for expanded operations in Iraq and Syria is going to come out of the paychecks of the people fighting there and elsewhere. Stunning but true. Incredibly, terribly at odds with the values and feelings of civilian America — but when has that every stopped a Congress not facing imminent election?
The Senate GOP can stop this stupid, unjust bill crafted by two retiring members, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich. I am still mystified why McKeon, long a champion of the troops, caved without a fight on this, but the GOP Senate caucus doesn’t have to. If the GOP refuses to go along, the bill will be put over to next year, and any lapse in benefits or bonuses can be made up by the new GOP majority in short order.
Sen. Ted Cruz announced opposition to the NDAA on my radio show Thursday, which will cheer the coalition of service member groups and veterans organizations rallying on Twitter at #KeepYourPromise. But it will take more than even the redoubtable Cruz to mount an effective opposition. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., could join in and burnish his credentials with the national security-conscious primary voters whom he hopes to woo, and Sen. Marco Rubio, facing re-election in military-heavy Florida in 2016 and contemplating a run for the White House himself, could join Cruz in an unstoppable trio of talkers who could derail the NDAA this week.
They ought to be joined by every Senate Republican, but especially by those who are on the ballot in 2016 and considered more or less “vulnerable.”
On Thursday, the “best and brightest” of House Democrats — Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen and Massachusetts’ Jim McGovern — were on the floor lambasting Republicans for cutting the pay and benefits of the military in a preview of what the Senate Republicans running in 2016 will face if they vote for this NDAA — indeed if they don’t do everything in their power to stop it, including joining in a filibuster.
How do we know this? It is what Republican challengers did to Democratic incumbents in the months running up to the November 4 wipe-out of those very Dems. Those attacks were justified because those Democrats — Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Kay Hagan in North Carolina, Mark Udall in Colorado — all had voted to cut the earned retirement benefits of the career military, and all of the GOP challengers flayed them for it.
Republican senators who don’t do all they can to stop the NDAA this week can expect the same treatment from their opponents in ’16. Van Hollen and McGovern were previews of coming attractions.
The Senate GOP should simply say no, and by doing so protect the men and women in uniform and their new and fragile majority in the U.S. Senate, as well as the right to be considered genuinely committed to restoring the national defenses so hollowed out by this president. That budget battle begins in earnest this week.
Watch closely and see who joins Cruz in standing beside the troops at Christmas, and who stands aside while the lame duck Congress delivers every military family a huge chunk of coal.
This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com.