Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Conservative Pension Inconsistencies

Congress is racing to get the Ryan - Murray Budget deal passed before taking some more time off.  (And believe me when I tell you that I for one, have nothing against our national legislature taking time away from their labors on behalf of the People.)   The House already passed it, Senate is poised to do so, and the President seems likely to sign it.  (He can always change things later if it doesn't work out, right?)  Neither side seems particularly pleased with the compromise reached, which not only pleases me, but makes sense when you consider that the two groups are supposed to be fundamentally, diametrically, and ideologically opposed; with the only thing that they can seemingly agree on (amongst themselves, at least) is that things would be better if their party were in complete charge.

The timing on the passage of this bi-partisan spending agreement is curiously compelling this year however, since it comes at the same time of the release of Senator Tom Coburn's annual report on government waste.  In it, the Oklahoma Senator details some $28 billion in 2013 government spending on things he calls "questionable or lower-priority programs".  One that particularly caught my eye however was that on the part of the military to junk a lot of the equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan. "The military has decided to simply destroy more than $7 billion worth of equipment rather than sell it or ship it back home," Coburn said. 

It did so because one of the most hotly disputed bits included in this week's bi-partisan compromise is a provision to achieve a $6.3 billion reduction in federal spending through a one percent reduction in cost of living benefits for retirees under age 62.  This should of course lead one to question who the budget rocket scientists were who approved an amount for senseless equipment destruction that they refused retirees.  (Personally, I would have thought that we're so loved in that part of the world that we could have sent over a box of sledge hammers and set up a booth to charge locals for the privilege of helping us out with the process.  Maybe we could have even filmed it and turned it into a reality show.) 

Not surprisingly however, this particular spending cut has military and veterans groups up in arms in what's described as an attack on those who have already faithfully served their country.  Draconian budget cutting Conservatives seemed to rise to the attack as well on what could be considered a mere 'cost of living increase' modification on such pensions, which in turn got me thinking ...

Now perhaps it's simple jealousy on my part, that someone has managed to hold down a job with same employer for 20 years and could conceivably retire at the age of 38.  Even someone hanging one for the full 30 could therefore find themselves on the porch by 48.  Don't get me wrong, I respect and honor anyone who makes that choice for themselves; and can grant that those who have faithfully served their country might feel that such a reward is their due. 

As one working in the private sector however, I now see no escape from Congressional reform of the Social Security retirement age that will see it raised from 65 to 70 long before I reach either.  I've long since reconciled myself to passing quietly while sitting in a corner behind an unnoticed desk at some age beyond that (assuming they'll let me work that long) so that I won't be a drain on the nation.  I can't help but wonder over the huge reaction to even a minor modification for retirees as part of a greater discussion of public sector pensions.   

I wonder that many of the Conservatives crying the loudest over the mere proposed of cost of living adjustment to such pensions appear to be the very same ones crying over the crippling costs of police and firefighter pensions for those performing dangerous labors in their municipalities.  Isn't it the concept of making government pensions 'untouchable' that has many of those same Conservatives outraged with the very concept of public sector pensions?  Isn't the mountain of underfunded plans at local levels the major part of debt that has bankrupted Detroit, MI, as it did earlier to Stockton and San Bernadino, CA before?  Aren't both Illinois and California doing little more than bookkeeping tricks to hide their own massive burdens in underfunded state pensions plans?   

Now I'm sure that all of this already has me in trouble with many 'loyal American Conservatives' out there, who see my stance an attack on our gallant troops.  It isn't.  I'm not even saying that I approve of the the COLA adjustment, though I'd love to see House and Senate members who are up for election openly debate its inclusion rather than insert it through a backroom maneuver.  One must recognize however, that no one can hold back the future.  

Lifetime pensions are an endangered species in this country; even the ones long associated with government service like the military.  The courts are now only just beginning to sort out the contractual mess involved with deciding between the rights and obligations of a citizen as a government employee versus the rights and obligations of every other citizen not so employed.  It will take someone far wiser than most of us to reach a 'just' decision as to where these rights lie.  My advice however, before weighing in too heavily on one side of the argument or the other (or spouting out only when it's your ox being gored) is to make sure that you're attempting to judge each situation with the consistency that it deserves. 

1 comment:

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