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Making Continuing Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2014--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. GRAHAM. Madam President, I join with the Senators from New Hampshire and Alabama in trying to urge the body to take a pause here and see if we can right a wrong before it matures. The good news is that we have a bipartisan agreement to try to fund the government in a fashion where we will not have a government by crisis. I appreciate that. I understand how hard it is to reach a consensus around here.

My objection is not to the deal as a whole. I appreciate the fact that sequestration relief occurred for our DOD budget for 2 years, and nondefense spending, and it was paid for. I appreciate that very much because sequestration has really cut into our ability to defend this Nation in a dramatic fashion, and to have it paid for is also a worthy goal and the right thing to do.

The point Senator Ayotte, Senator Sessions, and I are trying to make is that a budget is about your priorities. What we are doing today is telling everybody in America what is important to the Congress, the Senate, and the House when it comes to getting a budget passed for 2 years and how we should pay for it. Here is what I can't understand: Of all the groups in America you would go to and single out, unlike any other group, to pay for the offset and come up with some money out of their pocket to get this budget deal passed--which doesn't keep us from becoming Greece, by any means, but I do applaud the effort--we picked the military community.

Here is what we have done to our military retirees, past, present, and future: We have taken their cost-of-living adjustment and reduced it by 1 percent until they get to age 62. If you are an E-7, a master sergeant in the Air Force, who retires at 42 in 2015, by the time you get to 62, this 1-percent reduction a year of your COLA amounts to almost $72,000 in lost benefits.

Do you know how much a master sergeant with 20 years of service makes in retirement? It is less than $25,000 a year. So that almost $72,000 number requires the master sergeant to give up 3 years of retirement, because $24,000 to $25,000 a year is what they make for a 20-year period, and the cost of the COLA reduction is almost $72,000, so basically you have taken 3 years of their retirement away to do a budget deal that could be accomplished without having to do that to our military.

By the way, nobody else in the country is doing this. No Social Security recipient has given up a dime. The COLA formula for the military is exactly the same as Social Security and other COLAs that we get around here.

Should we look at reforming our military retirement pay pension benefit system? Yes, because it is unsustainable in the future. Entitlement growth in the military is real, just as it is on the civilian side. Nobody has ever envisioned doing it this way, to take the military retiree community and retroactively apply a benefit cut to them that takes $6.3 billion out of the retiree community. These are the people who have been fighting the wars for 20 years. These are the people who have been serving continuously since 9/11, overseas and at home, trying to protect the Nation, and this COLA reduction doesn't just apply to people who have retired and are in good health at 40 or 42 or 45, it also applies to people who are medically retired. Someone who has had their legs blown off in Afghanistan or Iraq, and most likely will not be able to get a second job, is going to lose thousands of dollars in this cost-of-living adjustment, and nobody else in the country is so situated.

Can we do better? You better believe it. Here is what Congress told the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. We set up a commission last year to advise the Congress next year on how we can fairly adjust retirement packages to make the personnel costs more sustainable in the Department of Defense in the future and how we can do that fairly.

Do you know what we told the commission. We mandated that any change they recommend has to grandfather existing forces and retirees. We put it in the law that created this commission. We put a restriction on the commission's ability to come up with pension, pay, and benefit reform by saying: You cannot apply it to people who have signed up and are expecting certain things. They are grandfathered.

We should have told ourselves that. We limited the commission, but we do exactly what the commission is not allowed to do. I don't know how my colleagues are going to explain this when they go back home. I hope somebody will ask what you are trying to accomplish. Trying to have a bipartisan budget that avoids a government shutdown is good, but asking the people who have been on the front lines of defending this Nation, who have been in the military for 20 years--and do you have any idea how many times the average military family moves in 20 years? Do you have any idea how many schools their children will attend because they move every couple of years? Do you have any idea what it is like to serve this country since 9/11?

All I can say is if we want to find $6.3 billion over the next decade to pay for this budget deal, we can find better alternatives than this if we take some time.

If my colleagues don't like what Senator Ayotte is doing, there are other ways. I am not asking a Democrat to defund ObamaCare to keep the government open. I am not asking a Democrat to take away a safety net from a group of Americans who are struggling. I am not asking a Republican to raise taxes. I am asking both of us, before Christmas, to rethink what we are doing here and take a little bit of time to fix a problem that, quite frankly, is unconscionable.

If you make over $250,000 a year in retirement, you receive $109 a month for a subsidy to pay for your Part D prescription drug bill. Here is what I would say: If you want to pick on rich people, let's do it. To me, $250,000 puts you in a category of living pretty good. Why in the world does our government give you $109 a month to pay your prescription drug bill when we as a nation are broke? That subsidy alone is worth $54 billion over the next 10 years. What if we took some of that money? What if we went to the $250,000 retiree and said: Would you give up some of your subsidy to pay your drug bill so military retirees don't have to lose the retirement benefits they have earned and have fought so hard to defend this Nation for so long? I bet they would say yes.

Here is the point: We are going to rush through this. If you ask me what bothers me the most about this, it is how insensitive we have become as a nation. We trip over ourselves to welcome the troops home when they come back from deployment. Members of Congress want to be there when the Guard unit leaves. We want to show how much we love the troops. That is a good thing.

Every American--Republican, Libertarian, vegetarian, Democrat--we all love the troops, but your Congress is expressing that love in a very strange way.

How far have we fallen? Do we have no shame? As a body elected by the American people to make sure the Nation is well run, what is the proper first role of the Federal Government? To defend the Nation. Tell me how to defend this Nation without people willing to die for it.

The budget doesn't defend this Nation. The CBO, the OMB, and all these acronyms do not defend the Nation against radical Islam. I am urging my colleagues in a spirit of bipartisanship and common decency: Do not single out the military retiree who has served so long and so hard and ask them to give so much when others are doing almost nothing.

As to our Federal employees, you are being asked to contribute more to the Federal retirement system, and I am sure that is a burden. But what do we do to Federal employees? We say that everybody who is in the system today does not share that burden. They are grandfathered. It is only for people who are hired in the future.

As to the military retiree, thank you for all of your hard work. Boy, do we have a deal for you.

This is not going to stand. This is going to pass because everybody is hellbent on getting out of here and going home and celebrating a bipartisan breakthrough, and we are going to talk about how we have become functional again. I do appreciate the effort to become functional, but to me, in our effort to become functional, we have lost our way and, quite frankly, lost our soul. Any political body that would do this in the name of good government has forgotten what government is all about. It is for, by, and of the people.

I will tell you right now, from the CEO to the doorman, when they hear about what we have done to pay for a budget deal at the expense of the military retired community, they are not going to be very appreciative. I promise this: If we don't fix it now, not only are we going to review it, we are going to fix it.

To our President: There is only one Commander in Chief. How could any Commander in Chief sign a bill that does this? Call us down to the White House, put us in a room, Republicans and Democrats, and don't let us out until we find a $6.3 billion offset that doesn't do injustice to the military retired community.

If I were the President, I sure as hell would do that. Nobody would be going home until we got this right.

So the President owes a duty to the troops greater than anybody because he is their Commander in Chief. I don't know whether we are going to get this fixed. The train is running, and the retired military community is on the tracks, and a few of us are trying to get them off. I promise their families that if we fail today, we are going to come back at this tomorrow, over and over and over, until the Congress finds its soul.

I yield.

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Mr. GRAHAM. Will the Senator yield for a second?

Mr. SESSIONS. I say to Senator Graham from South Carolina, I am pleased to yield for a question.

Mr. GRAHAM. I thank the Senator.

To follow on what Senator Wicker said, I have been trying to find out how this started to begin with too. Whose good idea was this?

So I called the Secretary of Defense, and he said: We did not do this. I talked to Chuck Hagel, and he said: This did not come from us. Because I said: What are you all doing over there? Please understand, Senator Graham, this did not come from us.

I think Senator Wicker knows the exact number. But if you are a military retiree, on your DD214 form--I do not know if the Senator from Alabama knows this, but when you get your retirement, your discharge DD214 form, at the bottom it says: Subject to being recalled.

Does the Senator know how many military retirees have been recalled since 9/11?

Mr. SESSIONS. I do not, I say to Senator Graham.

Mr. GRAHAM. I think the Senator from Mississippi may have the exact number, and it amounts to a brigade of soldiers, almost.

I ask the Senator from Mississippi, what is the number?

Mr. WICKER. Madam President, if the Senator would yield for an answer to that question, precisely 3,456 DOD retirees--the very people we are penalizing in this provision--have been recalled to Active Duty since September 11, 2001.

Mr. SESSIONS. I say to Senator Graham, you are a full colonel in the Air Force, still serving in the Reserve.

Mr. GRAHAM. Yes. Take my pay.

Mr. SESSIONS. Bless your heart. But it is a fact that this retirement pay is really more than retirement pay, is it not? It is really an income, a source of payment that ensures that the person can be recalled. So it is part of the right to recall you, a compensation for that.

Mr. GRAHAM. The answer is that when you retire after 20, you are subject to being recalled as long as you are physically able. I know one individual who was recalled at age 56 who was a JAG officer who had been out of the military for years. He set up his practice, and he said: Can they do this? I said: Hey, man, you are the lawyer. Of course. Read it. You know they can do this. And they did, only because we had to, and he went and did his part.

I bet you that of those 3,400, some of them were volunteers and some of them were not. But the cost-of-living adjustment is to make sure their retirement over time maintains its value. That is why we have a cost-of-living adjustment.

How much money do you make if you are a master sergeant after 20 years of service? It is less than $25,000 a year in retirement. So these people do not become millionaires when they retire. Try to raise a family of four on $25,000 without a COLA. So the COLA is designed to keep the benefit vibrant over time. When you do a COLA minus 1 percent, it does diminish the value of the package.

Here is what gets me the most. If we did it for everybody in the country, that would be one thing. These are the only people in America who get this special good deal.

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