DANA MILBANK: GOP finds a reason to bash the budget

Washington Post Writers Group Published:

WASHINGTON -- Republican senators were in a bind.

Conservative groups that work to defeat ideologically impure GOP incumbents were demanding a vote against the budget compromise Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., hatched with Democrats. But, with a January deadline looming, voting down the compromise was essentially voting for another government shutdown. How, then, to justify voting no?

They couldn't credibly say the deal had too much spending: It cut the deficit and didn't raise taxes. And they couldn't say it hurt the military: It added $22 billion to the Pentagon budget for 2014.

Instead, they singled out a small provision -- a $6 billion cut to military pensions over 10 years -- and proclaimed it an all-out assault on our brave men and women in uniform.

"It is absolutely wrong to take from our military retirees, those who have sacrificed the most," Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire said with indignation at a Tuesday news conference.

Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi was equally aghast that the Ryan plan would "penalize and treat differently the brave men and women who ... chose a military career."

And Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who is fighting off a primary challenge, was coarse: "Of all the people we could've picked on to screw, how could we have arrived here?"

Their outrage was suspicious. The cut they condemned is a one-percentage-point reduction in cost-of-living increases for military pensions for those who retire young, often in their 40s and usually to begin second careers. And the need to restrain military benefits is undisputed: Overall payments to military retirees and survivors were $52 billion last year, and personnel costs, now half of the Pentagon's budget, will soon crowd out everything else if current trends persist.

But the gambit gave Republicans an excuse to oppose Ryan's compromise. In a key vote Tuesday, 33 of 45 Senate Republicans -- 73 percent -- voted to block a final vote. That wasn't enough to kill the agreement, but it was a complete flip from what happened five days earlier in the House, where 73 percent of Republicans voted in favor of the deal.

In part the difference was because Ryan has less sway over Senate Republicans and because of partisan bitterness over the recent filibuster skirmish. But a bigger factor may have been the extra time conservative groups had to rally opposition, and lawmakers had to devise a cover story for their nays.

Whatever the cause, last week's House vote already looks more like a bipartisan blip than the beginning of a new era of cooperation. On Tuesday, most Senate Republicans returned to the reflexive opposition that has characterized the past five years.

Fortunately there were a dozen grown-ups on the Republican side Tuesday (more than enough to ensure passage), including elder statesman Orrin Hatch (Utah), budget geek Rob Portman (Ohio) and the iconoclastic John McCain (Arizona).

"This budget's probably going to pass," Graham lamented, "because everybody's hell-bent to get out of town and not shut down the government. ... We're in a big hurry around here to show you how functional we are."

And that's such a bad thing?

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

Want to leave your comments?

Sign in or Register to comment.

  • Think about it...soros is tied to 35 media outlets including the NYT, Wash post, AP, Cnn, ABC and has funded media matters to the tune of $52 million to pay underwear suited hacks to monitor talk radio and post smear chatter on facebook.

  • Sadly there are progressives who believe this dribble from a political hack paid by soros.

  • "The cut they condemned is a one-percentage-point reduction in cost-of-living increases ... and the need to restrain benefits is undisputed: Overall payments ... will soon crowd out everything else if current trends persist."

    Funny how Democrats reject the exact same reasoning when applied to their sacred cow entitlements.