Military personnel and federal civilian workers would see pay levels frozen for three years and their out-of-pocket medical costs rise under a proposed plan to cut federal budget deficits by $200 billion a year by 2015.
The 58-part illustrative plan was unveiled last week by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Erskine Bowles, chief of staff to President Clinton, who serve as co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
That 18-member blue-ribbon panel is to deliver a final report to President Barack Obama by December on ways to tackle a U.S. debt crisis that grows continually, with annual federal deficits nearing 10 percent of the gross domestic product, a rate higher than any year since World War II.
Yet the political minefield ahead for the co-chairmen's proposal, at least in trying to squeeze savings out of the military community, became apparent in a recent phone interview with Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C.
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Wilson is expected to become chairman of the House armed services subcommittee on military personnel in the new Congress. He aligns himself with the Tea Party. Many Tea Party members were elected this month on promises to reduce budget deficits.
But Wilson, whose district includes Fort Jackson, Parris Island and several other bases, told me he is committed to protecting Tricare beneficiaries from fee increases. In fact, his priorities as panel chairman included expanding entitlements: ending a Survivor Benefit Plan offset for widows, lowering the starting age of reserve retirement and providing some military retired pay atop disability compensation for members forced to retire before reaching 20 years due to disability or injury.
The debt commission has a far different course in mind to persuade the Obama administration and a more conservative Congress that a new era of fiscal restraint is needed to protect America. The co-chairmen propose dramatic cuts across government including to Social Security, Medicare and federal retirement, presumably for future service members and civil servants. They also call for a variety of higher taxes, including on gasoline. Income taxes would be lowered and simplified, but popular deductions, including for home mortgages, would be cut.
"America cannot be great if we go broke," Simpson and Bowles said. "We must stabilize then reduce the national debt," which stands at nearly $14 trillion, "or we could spend $1 trillion a year on interest alone by 2020."
Here's are highlights that, if adopted, would impact the military:
All Tricare beneficiaries including active duty family members would face a co-payment for office visits, to reduce their "higher than average usage of health care." Also, a "modest enrollment fee" would be set for all three Tricare options.
Finally, Tricare would be subject to "pay-as-you-go" budget deficit rules so that any future increases in military health benefits are paid for through higher premiums, co-pays and deductibles.
The full proposal can be read at www.fiscalcommission.gov.