HH: Well, that was different. I am joined now by Senator Lindsey Graham of the great state of South Carolina. Senator Graham, I just got done throwing hammers back and forth with one of the people I most admire, Paul Ryan.
LG: Oh, he’s a great guy.
HH: But I am appalled, I am outraged, I’m ashamed of the Republican Party.
LG: Paul is wrong on this one.
HH: Well, will you do everything you can to stop the attack on the military career?
LG: Okay, can, one, can I say this? You’re the only voice in the entire talk radio conservative world, and conservative to me means putting the military in the forefront of our thinking when it comes to budgeting, spending money on the military and taking care of those who fight the wars. That, to me, is the conservative position, right?
LG: Okay, now here’s, Paul is a wonderful guy, but here’s what I disagree with. This deal is a penalty to the retired force. It is not reforming the cost of living allowance for anybody, including the military. It is a one percent reduction in the cost of living allowance up until the age of 62. So if an E-7, a master sergeant in the Air Force, retires in 2016, between the time they retire at 42 and become 62, they will have lost $80,000 dollars, almost, in cost of living benefits. Their retirement will have been reduced by $80,000. An O-5, a lieutenant colonel, is over $100,000. And this is applied retroactively, and not one group in America had the pleasure of getting this done to them, not Social Security, not Medicare, Federal retirees had to contribute to their pension prospectively. Everybody in the federal government who was in the current system was grandfathered. And finally, Congress has a commission to look to reform and make sustainable pay and benefits, including retirement, that’s working on a solution that comes out this year. And in the charter of the commission that we set up Congressionally, we dictated that any solution had to grandfather people who are currently in the service. This provision retroactively applied to the military. Not one other group in America had this done to them.
HH: Senator Graham, I have not been this angry since the attack on Clarence Thomas. And I…
LG: You know, why am I, I’ve been saying the military’s getting screwed. Where’s the Wall Street Journal? I love the Wall Street Journal. They, that editorial factually was wrong. The federal government civilian workforce under this budget deal had to contribute prospectively to the retirement fund, and the money wasn’t used to shore up their retirement fund. It was used to pay for this deal. But everybody was grandfathered. This is not in Simpson-Bowles. My good friend, John McCain, is on the other side of this issue at times. He said Simpson-Bowles adopted this provision. They did not. In their work product, they tried to save $47 billion dollars, I think it was over a ten year period, from retirement benefits in general for civilian and military employees. They looked at this as an example, but they didn’t adopt any provision. What they’re doing, Hugh, I’ve never been so mad. Can you imagine you have been to Iraq three times, maybe Afghanistan twice, you’ve missed countless birthdays, you have missed countless Christmases. You have done your 20, and this is the way you get rewarded?
HH: And the Chairman said to me, that is a hair-trigger for me, he said this had to be done in order to provide readiness.
LG: [expletive deleted]
HH: In other words, pilots…
LG: I probably shouldn’t say that on the radio.
HH: The pilots have to pay for their own gas. The soldiers have to pay for their own bullets.
LG: Come on…
HH: I am…
LG: I’m sorry I cussed on your, but here’s the deal. We’re going to look at Tri-Care. Okay, I’m in the Guard. I will retire next year after 30 years of service. Guard members do not receive their retirement until they’re 60. But when you come in, the current contract says after 20 years of honorable service, you will get a retirement. You know what an E-7 makes after 20 years of service, after 20 years of hauling your ass all over the world, missing countless events with your family, risking your life? It’s $25,000 dollars, okay?
HH: You see, can you stop this?
LG: Yes, I promise you. If I never do anything else in my entire political life, I am going to fix this. Now in this current budget deal, we’ve taken the disability, disabled soldiers who are medically retired, their COLA was hit, too. Well, we fixed this. That was $600 million. The entire package was $6.3 billion. We took $6.3 billion dollars away from military retirees and treated them differently than everybody else in the country, because we were trying to find money. We’ve lost, the contract is your kids won’t get drafted. Your family members won’t get drafted. I will volunteer to take their place. Just honor the deal you have with me.
HH: So why not, now nine of your members voted to advance Ryan-Murray. You could filibuster this, and force them back to the table to re-add in that $6 billion. Will you do that?
LG: On the omnibus bill?
LG: I don’t think that is, I don’t think we’ll get support for that, because we’ve got to, literally the government runs out of money. Here’s what I think we can and will do. The Defense Authorization bill will come up later on in the year. That is the vehicle to change this. There’ll be numerous vehicles throughout 2014 that will allow us to attach this reform. On the uninsured, unemployment extension for three months, Kelly Ayotte has a provision to include the military retirement fix.
HH: Senator, if I can interrupt…
LG: Sure, yeah.
HH: I think you should make your Alamo stand right now, because this is holding the military hostage. I think you ought to go down to the floor with whoever will go with you and simply refuse to vote for this until they add this money back in. You just passed a three day extension. They can operate on one week continuing resolutions. I don’t think the military should ever be held hostage like this.
HH: I know you agree with that.
LG: Yeah, no, just trust me on this. You’re dead right on the substance. Now how we get this fixed, we can have differences of opinion. There’s going to be a big vote in the House tomorrow to pass the bill to fund the government. There will be a fix for the retirees for the disabled and the surviving spouse. But the average military retiree will not have their COLA readjusted. We will get there, Hugh. Why is no one else in the country talking about this other than you?
HH: They haven’t had a chance. Everyone assumed you would not let this happen, not you personally, but everyone got head fakes that this was going to be fixed. And so no one talked about it. And you know, we gave them a pass. And then it comes, it’s unwrapped last night late at night. It’s sprung on us. People are just figuring out that in fact the career military are getting screwed, and they’re getting, I don’t think it should pass.
LG: Well, we did this, now two weeks, ago, we brought this up before the Budget, you know, I voted against the Budget Act because of this. I said listen, I went down on the floor with Kelly Ayotte and Roger Wicker. Roger Wicker was the first one to raise this. We found out it was in the House package, and Roger asked, what does this mean to the average military retiree? It’s a huge, it’s $80,000 dollars for a master sergeant up to 62 who served…
HH: Stay with me one more short segment, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
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HH: Now I’m just finishing up with about two and a half minutes, Senator Graham. Please explain to the audience. This should be stopped now. It could be defeated in the House by a majority of the Republican caucus. You could find 41 Republicans to filibuster it. Why not stop it now?
LG: I don’t think we can, because number one, I think your callers, I mean, I hope they do call. I hope they bring this up to a boiling point. I hope everybody that can hear your voice will get on the phone and say fix, don’t screw the military retirement community. And that’s what we’ve done. We’ve taken their cost of living allowance minus one percent up to the age of 62, retroactively applied. So if a guys is going to, has got 18 years of service, he retires in two years, he retires at 42. By the time he gets to 62, if he’s an E-7, he has lost $80,000 dollars, and not one other group in America has the pleasure of this so-called reform. Having said that, we will look at military retirement pay and pension reform, but it will be prospective. You will not be surprised. You will not have the deal yanked out from under you. Why aren’t more people mad about this? I don’t think, I’m telling you, I’m on your show, I appreciate being on your show. You’re not going to stop the budget deal. I can’t get 41 senators to stop this. But I will fix this. We got part of it fixed. I promise you this will never go into effect.
HH: Will you vote against cloture, though, Senator?
LG: Cloture on the bill?
LG: Sure. I’ll vote against cloture.
HH: Because I think Republicans are going to pay a long time for this.
LG: And I will get on the floor, and I’ll vote against cloture, and I’ll say this is why I’m going to vote against cloture.
HH: I appreciate that.
LG: I will do that tomorrow. I will do that tomorrow. But will you promise me this? If we can’t win tomorrow, or Thursday, that we won’t give up? Will you promise me?
HH: Oh, absolutely not. I think the Republicans in the House are going to get hit with more…do you know that Lone Survivor grossed $38.5 million? Do you think people in America want to penalize those guys?
LG: No, this is what I don’t get. Where did the part of Ronald Reagan go? Can you imagine, okay, Barack Obama’s commander-in-chief. Doesn’t he owe a duty greater than all of us because it’s his job as commander-in-chief to look out for these people? Why did he sign the bill? Can you imagine if we did this to Social Security recipients? And here’s the argument. Well, you served 20 years, you retire at 42, you can get another job. You’ve earned what you’ve got.
LG: The cost of living…
HH: Let people who spent every Christmas, three out of four Christmases away…
LG: There you go, getting your ass shot off over in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for $25,000 dollars, you know? You do that. You miss Christmas. You miss birthdays. You go over and put yourself in harm’s way. And here’s the deal. The voluntary service, the voluntary military, is based on this proposition. Your kids won’t have to go because I will go. Just honor the commitment you make to me. If you don’t have a cost of living increase, the retirement gets eaten up by inflation. This is not an overly generous deal.
HH: Senator Lindsey Graham, thanks for taking time today. Good luck tonight and tomorrow in turning this around. I think there are 41 Republicans who ought to stand with you and simply vote no on cloture.
End of interview.