Kline Votes To Cut Medicare Rather Than Making Tough Choices

First a refresher … MPR’s Brett Neely story of September 20, 2013

Congress headed toward another staredown over budget

Once routine legislative act, the vote [to increase the government’s borrowing level] has become a high wire act with potentially dangerous consequences, thanks to the changing nature of American politics.
One of the lawmakers to watch in the coming days Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline, who represents Minnesota’s 2nd District.
A staunch conservative, Kline also has a close relationship with House Speaker John Boehner. He’s also been a reliable vote for past debt ceiling and spending bills that were unpopular with the GOP’s tea party wing.
On the issue of whether the House will eventually approve a government funding bill that’s also agreeable to the Senate and President Barack Obama, Kline hints that he’ll again be a yes vote.
“I have said on a number of times that it is very important for me to not ‘shut down the government’ because that means you have troops in combat that you’re not paying,” said Kline, a former Marine colonel.
“I think the real answer to the debt limit is to get some agreement from Senate Democrats and more specifically the White House that you’ve got to do something about entitlements,” Kline said in a reference to Social Security and Medicare.
In particular, Kline is interested in ideas such as a higher retirement age.
When asked whether it’s appropriate to push for such complex changes with just weeks to go before the federal government runs out borrowing room, Kline said, “yes.”

OK … in short, John Kline does not want to impact military pay but promotes cutting Social Security and Medicare, and as David Gerson’s supporters will remind everyone, eventually, Chairman Kline voted to raise the debt ceiling.

Fast Forward … to the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 which John Kline supported praising Paul Ryan (R-WI-01)

“There are always a few who you could never get it good enough,” Republican Rep. John Kline said, “But by and large, I think people will be pleased.”
“I think most of us on our side of the aisle were hoping early on for a much bigger deal, bigger reform in entitlement spending,” Kline said.
“Given the climate that we’re in and everything that is happening, I think Paul Ryan did an excellent job, he managed to hit some very key points that are very important to a lot of Americans and certainly to a lot of Republicans. He did it without a tax increase; he did it with some long-term deficit reduction.
I just think he did a really fine job.”

One of the “long-term deficit reduction” items was Chairman Ryan’s assertion “The Need to Reform Military Compensation”

Since 2001, the cost per service member in the active-duty force has increased by 41 percent, excluding war funding and adjusting for inflation. If personnel costs continue growing at that rate and the overall defense budget grows with inflation, military personnel costs will consume the entire defense budget by 2039.
Although the military’s retirement program serves only a small minority of the force—about 17 percent of military personnel eventually qualify for retired pay—it provides an exceptionally generous benefit, often providing 40 years of pension payments in return for 20 years of service. A service member who retires after 20 years of service receives 50 percent of his or her high-three basic pay with the percentage increasing in 2.5 percent increments for each year above 20. Between FY 2002 and FY 2012, payments to military retirees from the Military Retirement Fund rose by 49 percent.

Chairman Ryan addressed this issue by changing the programs such that beginning in December 2015, the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) for current working-age military retirees under the age of 62 would be lowered by one percent, but would be restored retroactively for any affected retirees when they reach age 62. At age 62, the retired pay would be calculated as if each prior year’s COLA had been the full CPI. And after age 62, the COLA itself would be the full CPI. This modest reduction to retired pay for younger retirees will reduce the deficit by approximately $6 billion over the next ten years while still fully protecting retirees from inflation over the long-term.

As stated, John Kline voted for Chairman Ryan’s Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 … but what’s changed in eight weeks now such that John Kline wanted to repeal that Ryan proposal ?

A loud chorus of complaints — from some retired military officiers.

OK … so let’s accept Chairman Ryan’s problem as valid, if you want to repeal it … that will add $6 billion to the budget. What’s the Kline solution ?

Did he cosponsor H.R.3793 – Military Retirement Restoration Act offered by 40 Members including Tim Walz ?
Actually, the bill was sent to John Kline’s House Armed Services Committee which just let it sit.
That proposal would be fully paid for by closing tax loopholes for corporations that operate and are run from the U.S. but use off-shore tax havens to avoid paying their fair share.

Did he cosponsor H.R. 3787 : Repeal Annual COLA Reduction for Military Retirees offered by 27 Members including Michele Bachmann ?
Actually, the bill was sent to John Kline’s House Armed Services Committee which just let it sit.
That proposal would be fully paid by instructing the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs to pursue joint purchasing contracts for prescription drugs.

Did he cosponsor H.R.3801: Repeal Annual COLA Reduction for Military Retirees offered by Darryl Issa ?
Actually, the bill was sent to John Kline’s House Armed Services Committee which just let it sit.
That proposal would be fully paid by eliminating Saturday delivery of First Class Mail.

Did he cosponsor H.R. 3790: Repeal Annual COLA Reduction for Military Retirees written by Republican Jeff Miller, offered by 114 Members including Tim Walz and Keith Ellison ?
Actually, the bill was sent to John Kline’s House Armed Services Committee which just let it sit.
That proposal was not paid for as Representative Miller saidThe bill was intentionally left without offsets to garner united support.”

OK … you get it … those were just some of proposals … some that should not be considered … but when it came down to voting on the bill, the legislation was approved by extending sequester cuts to mandatory spending under Medicare for another year.

John Kline said Cut Medicare … protect COLA.

So we’re really simply robbing one group of deserving people to pay another group of deserving people,” said House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA). “That is hardly responsible and hardly helpful.”

Chairman Ryan, who voted against the repeal, issued a press release :

“This bill undermines one part of last year’s bipartisan budget agreement. I’m glad it keeps the compensation reforms for federal employees and billions of dollars in commonsense cuts. But on military compensation, it takes a step back. Our military leaders—and the math—have been clear: Compensation costs are hollowing out the Pentagon’s budget. They are taking resources away from training and modernization—and putting our troops at risk. This bill takes away over $6 billion from military readiness.
“The bipartisan budget agreement delayed the military-retirement reforms for two years so the Pentagon’s compensation commission would have time to think of alternative reforms if necessary. This bill undercuts that process. Rather than making the tough choices, it sidesteps them. I’m open to replacing this reform with a better alternative. But I cannot support kicking the can down the road.

Kick the can down the road … no, Chairman Ryan, John Kline kicked Medicare recipients.

As another Member of the Budget Committee, Betty McCollum reacted:

“The Republican plan to cut Medicare payments to hospitals and doctors in order to replace cuts to future military pensions is wrong.

“I support restoring the pensions of military members and those of federal workers – all of whom serve to advance our nation’s safety, security and well-being. However, any plan to do so by shifting the cuts onto other critical services for our communities will not win my support.

Republicans have failed to accomplish much while leading the House, and their focus on legislation designed to look good in campaign ads rather than move this country forward does nothing to change that fact.”

Interestingly, Mike Obermueller, Chairman Kline’s likely opponent in November, issued a statement indicating that he was not surprised that Chairman Kline rejected raising the debt ceiling :

After all, leading up to the government shutdown, all Kline talked about was how opportune a time it was to privatize Social Security and voucherize Medicare.
Our country pays it’s bills — whether John Kline wants to or not.
If you believe that our country can no longer sustain John Kline’s “We’ll See What Happens” approach to legislating, then I need your help to flip this seat.
This is our chance to change the discourse that has been corroded by the radical conservative wing of Congress.

But not to worry what will happen to John Kline … he will get his military pension and Congressional pension as Chairman Ryan cited in his report – “Because service members can retire well before the normal retirement age in the private sector, most begin a second career after leaving the military.” … like become a Congressman.

For fun, let’s look at the program.
Remember military personnel must work for 20 years to earn benefits … not one day less … but obviously that means that someone could “retire” at age 38 and then work for another 25+ years earning another pension plus Social Security benefits.
So using the military pension calculator and assumed retirement in 2013, 30 years of service and pay grades of E-8 (First Sergeant) would receive $3,729 per Month (incidentally, for fun using the same data for a O-6 Colonel … i.e. John Kline would receive $7,161 and O-10 4-Star General would receive $10,964 ….
A Member of Congress would also get a retirement check of $3,380 …
remember those are MONTHLY figures …

Chairman Ryan is correct — America has a long term structural problem with impressive benefits for officers … and John Kline would rather kick the can down the road, quickly trying to quiet some vocal retired military colleagues and is willing to take the money from Medicare. Worse yet, this problem did not need to be resolved without any hearings or debate … the COLA cuts were not scheduled to impact the calculation until December 2015.

We need problem-solvers … not can kickers.
Chairman Kline failed to offer alternative solutions but was unphased with cutting Medicare … thus the question :
Do you trust with another two years to make decisions on Medicare ?

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