Paul Ryan’s Budget Cuts Target Veterans and Unemployed
Everything was fine as long as Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, was targeting so-called entitlements, the dirty word Republicans use to describe Democratic programs preventing the most vulnerable people in America from dying penniless in the streets.
That’s what gained Ryan a completely unearned reputation as a bold thinker for daring to suggest that we wreck Social Security and Medicare, the two most successful government programs benefitting everyone.
Even though Republicans have opposed both programs ever since their creation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s and President Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s, the media praised Ryan’s “politically courageous” new thinking.
The more Ryan attacked programs helping poor people, the more he was hailed nationally as a brilliant Republican “idea man.”
People even accepted Ryan’s phony cover story explaining how denying food assistance to children, unemployment benefits for the jobless and health coverage for those without insurance was actually good for poor people.
Ryan claimed he was protecting the dignity of the poor by preventing the government’s “safety net” from becoming a “hammock” where the desperately poor would loll around enjoying a life of ease instead of working.
Except, of course, Ryan and other Republicans also voted against creating any jobs during the second worst economic crisis in history when millions were thrown out of work.
So how did Ryan’s cruel budget-slashing finally become too much even for tax-cut-happy Republicans?
Ryan included the retirement benefits of U.S. soldiers in the mean-spirited budget cuts he demanded in exchange for a bipartisan deal to avoid another government shutdown.
And that wasn’t even close to the worst thing Ryan did in those negotiations. That was refusing to include extended unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, resulting in 1.3 million unemployed Americans losing those meager benefits right after Christmas.
Penalizing Wounded Soldiers
But most politicians, especially Republican ones, love to publicly proclaim their solidarity with America’s troops despite how recklessly they endanger the lives of those young soldiers by sending them into unnecessary wars.
And politicians in both parties were shocked to find that Ryan’s budget deal not only cut retirement benefits for able-bodied soldiers, but also cut benefits for disabled soldiers retired with missing body parts and permanent injuries and survivors of those who didn’t come back at all.
Ryan was compelled to write an op-ed column in USA Today promising to join his Democratic counterpart in budget negotiations, Washington Sen. Patty Murray, in introducing an amendment to restore full benefits to wounded soldiers and surviving family members.
But Ryan refused to back down from his insistence on cutting benefits for those who now retire from the military after 20 years, calling the need for such reforms “undeniable.”
In fact, just as Ryan demonizes poor folks who get government assistance, he seemed to suggest ex-soldiers receiving the retirement benefits they were promised by the government to get them to enlist were pulling a fast one on taxpayers.
“This reform affects only younger military retirees,” Ryan wrote. “Right now, any person who has served 20 years can retire—regardless of age. That means a serviceman who enlists at 18 becomes eligible for retirement at 38. The late 30s and early 40s are prime working years, and most of these younger retirees go on to second careers.”
That’s right, and more power to them. We know from recent history that, after 20 years, many of them have survived being sent again and again into combat zones where their lives were repeatedly put at risk and they endured traumas leading to soaring suicide rates and psychological disorders.
There used to be a limit to the number of tours in which a soldier would have to risk his or her life. All those limits ended in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars eagerly pursued by President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Ryan himself, all of whom avoided military service themselves.
Ryan’s so-called reform would cut annual cost-of-living adjustments of military pensions to 1% less than the actual inflation rate. That means military retirement benefits would be worth less and less every year until ex-soldiers reach the age of 62.
That’s causing Ryan’s fellow Republicans to line up behind a bill, introduced by New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte, called the Keeping Our Promise to Our Military Heroes Act.
It’s really nice that Republicans are standing up for military victims of Ryan’s budget cuts. It would be even nicer if they would start realizing Ryan’s nasty ideas continue to hurt millions of struggling civilians as well.
In Ryan’s world, military service is just another government program whose benefits need to be slashed to reduce the taxes of the wealthy, the only Americans who really matter to him.